How to own your return to work after maternity leave

By Clara Wilcox

Returning to work after your maternity leave brings up a whole mix of emotions. Often, so much time and attention is given to the practical sides that “Mum” doesn’t give herself enough time to think about and prepare for what she wants.

These are my top six areas to pay attention to, so you can have a positive and enjoyable return to work.

Change: Expect it, it is normal!


The change in mind-set starts from the second you know you are pregnant; or even before!  Another big shifts occurs when you are returning to work.  The feelings you will work through can be compared to the feelings that occur through the grieving process: Denial, Blame, Anger, Uncertainty, Acceptance and finally Planning!  Understand these feeling are normal and are not a reflection of your commitment or capability. 

Respect the emotions you are feeling and talk! Talk to colleagues and friends – local parenting groups, online and other parents at your workplace. Identify the areas that are causing you concern and start researching. Be in control.

You will want and need time to settle back in


The impact of the return to work can be longer reaching and wider than the first few weeks. The practical elements of your return (such as getting back into your computer!) are not the only thing that should be considered.

Give yourself a “maternity return induction” to settle back in; reconnect with your team, department and your colleagues. Don’t expect to sit down and just pick up where you left off. Reflect on when you had your last holiday. I expect you had updates with the team, caught up with emails and read meeting minutes. Maternity leave is time away – regardless of the reason (by no means a “holiday”!) but the concept is the same. No question is a stupid question, get the clarity that you need. What do you need to feel informed?

Don’t make assumptions about yourself or each other


The “you” returning is a different person to the “you” that left. What you want out of you career and personal development may have changed.

If you have come back on a different working pattern, don’t be apologetic about it. Be clear in your communication around working patterns and your availability through your email sign off and face to face updates.

Verbalise and set your career goals with your Manager


Don’t wait until your annual review or appraisal to set goals; get these in place as soon as you can when you return. It will provide you with focus and direction. Make it clear to your Manager and colleagues (and yourself) what you want career-wise and how you will achieve it.

Be open and honest about what is achievable within the hours that you work; don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself if you have moved to a part-time role or you can’t be as flexible with working “overtime”.

Consider what you have learnt about yourself in the time you have been away and be clear about what you need to do your job. This could be simply refreshing your IT skills or to improve your confidence in public speaking.  The skills you have are still there, just a bit rusty!

Parental Leave: Understand and start the discussions early. Use KIT days


The earlier the better for this point. Ideally before you leave for your maternity leave!  Get your hands on the company policies including KIT Days and Flexible Working Request.  Understand them and how they apply to your individual circumstances.

If you are looking to change your hours, via a Flexible Working Request, make sure you have a compromise position and ideally speak to your Manager before you return. Remember, it’s a two-way discussion process. If a decision can’t be made on the offset, suggest a trial process, maybe using any accrued holiday you have. During this, you could uncover and make recommendations around efficiencies or process changes.

Don’t forget your “Keep In Touch” days! I personally didn’t take these and regretted it. They are a great chance to stagger your return to work, get up to speed with colleagues and the job, without it impacting your maternity leave. It also gives a financial boost at the end of you unpaid leave period!  

Communication: It underpins all of these points!


Share experiences and perspectives; connect with colleagues who you feel you can confide in. Engage with the mentor programme or a coach if you don’t have a sympathetic or supportive ear!  

 If you only remember one thing from this whole article, remember that consistent communication will help you have a positive return to work – with friends, family, your managers and your colleagues.

I am on the forum all week taking any questions you might have on returning to work after maternity leave and on acquiring a balance between work and family. So do pop over and drop me a line and I'll get back to you with my advice.



The Balance Collective



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