If you are about to return to work, or recently have after maternity leave then I can imagine your maternity leave was not as you thought it would be. I know mine was not. I have recently returned to work from a 12-month maternity leave (extended for as long as possible with the hope that lockdown and restrictions would go before it runs out). As well as the massive change bringing a baby into this world can be, new parents have also had to contend with the world around us changing beyond our imagination due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baby groups and soft play closed during lockdowns and restrictions, family and friends were not able to meet your new arrival or provide the support that is so welcomed by new parents, the escapism from your home to just pop to a café, shop, holiday, day out etc. and give you that break was taken away and now you are already returning to work. But are you ready?
Maternity leave has been tougher than usual and although it has been lovely living in a baby bubble it has perhaps left you exhausted, your mental health suffered and feeling anxious about re-joining the world of work.
It can be a daunting process returning to work after so much time off. Has the work environment changed? Has the dynamic changed? What projects are they working on? Will I have a place in the company? Will I remember what to do? Will I have the energy? These are just a few of the thoughts that have entered my mind.
Returning to work has stirred mixed emotions. The challenges working full/part time brings alongside childcare plus the added things to consider due to the pandemic can make it even harder for new parents to transition.
Pre-covid there were many positives with returning to work such as socialising with co-workers, having a break from working from home and having a sense of normality and familiarity. Most of these have been affected.
That is why I have put together a bit of advice to hopefully help you navigate your return to work.
- Take it easy.
You have been through a lot. Emotionally, physically, and mentally this last year has been hard. Returning to work can be mentally and physically exhausting too as things are not the same as they were before. Even if you were full time before, the added responsibility of looking after a child too is more demanding. Ease yourself back into work gently if you can. Use your accrued annual leave to work shorter weeks to begin with and help the transition into your work schedule.
- Talk to your boss.
Have open and honest discussions about your return, how you feel, expectations of you and vice versa and what the first few weeks back will be like. Consider any situations that may arise from childcare, for example: nursery have new COVID-19 rules to follow so drop off takes longer as children need to be checked in at the door one by one making this process in the morning longer than anticipated; children may need to isolate suddenly if a case arises in their peer group which mean you may have to leave work suddenly and work from home (WFH) for the isolation period. Inform your boss of any plans if situations change. Perhaps you want to return to work sooner or later than planned. Are you required to return to the office or work from home? Working from home is something new parents would not normally have to factor into their return to work. If you are required to WFH then make sure you have everything you need.
Use your first few weeks to settle in and build-up your understanding of what is going on in the business, any new changes and how the business operates now. Remember your colleagues have had longer than you to adapt to this new way of working whether that is working from home, wearing PPE, attending online meetings, or using new software and resources. Give yourself time to adapt, sit in on meetings, ask to see recent project work, read recent blogs and newsletters the company have sent out, learn about any changes to the company in your absence that influences you or your job role.
- Working from home?
Just when you thought you could finally escape the four walls of your home you have now been told that you must work from home until the foreseeable. It can be a relief for some that are anxious to return to the outside world or a blow to others who thrive from social interaction. Either way, your mental health can be affected by this and it is important to be aware and look after yourself during this time. Your colleagues have had longer to adapt and set up their home office workspace so ensure that you give yourself time to prepare before your return. Plan which area in your home is best suited to work from. Try and separate work from home by setting up away from where you eat, sleep, or relax. Your workstation must be comfortable and practical and speak to your boss if you require any additional equipment or resources to ensure you can do your job.
- Remember you are doing your best!
It is a challenge to balance working and being a parent. It will take time to adapt, and you are doing the best you can.
If you live away from family or if family/support is absent due to restrictions or being in isolation this can be frustrating and even more challenging to juggle both work and parenting. At times you may feel that you are failing at one or the other or both but understand that this is beyond your control. Don’t be hard on yourself! Times are different and hard now and you can only do so much.
Remember to listen to yourself and consider your needs too. As a parent it is hard to put yourself first and as an employer you may feel the internal pressure to make an impact on your return to work. Do not dismiss your mental health during this busy time. This is the most important thing because if your mental health is not looked after then it can affect everything around you.
It is ok to reassess your situation, whether that is every week, every month, or every year. Take one day at a time and make sure your current situation is working for you. Consider the near future as well as the long-term goals and what may change over time. For example, will childcare increase? Will finances improve? Will flexible working be an option? Will you be required to work from home or the office at some point? All these factors can help or change the way you balance you home and work life so always know your options.
Best of the luck to you on this new chapter. From a working parent to another, you’ve got this!