Transitioning back to work after parental leave

10 July 2018

Whether you’re going back to work when your baby is three months or eighteen months old, it’s still a demanding time. “It’s a challenging transition time,” says Mums @ Work founder Emma Walsh.

She adds asking for help is a big key to making this back to work transition possible: “The people around you will be happy to help you out if you let them,” she said.

There are several things to consider when heading back to work after maternity leave.


Think about what you want

Think about whether your role is right for you. “It’s what I call a career audit,” explains Walsh. “Think about the role you’re going back to and whether that’s going to be the same or different, because in the time you’ve been away the organisation could have undergone some changes.”

Having some time away from work can be a chance to think clearly about your career. “Really think about what you want: where you are at in your career, what you enjoy doing in your job, and where you would like to head,” says Walsh. “You want to think about not only whether you’re bringing value to your job, but whether it’s bringing value to you.”

Consider your mental health needs too, including:

  • Post-natal depression is a high risk during the first twelve months after having a baby, so be aware of your own exhaustion, stress and low mood stressors;
  • Leaving your baby to go back to work can be an emotional time, so seek support from your close friends, family and workplace;
  • Taking time out for yourself, or with your partner, can be tricky when you’re managing work and family responsibilities, so consider how you’ll manage this.

Prepare before asking for flexible work arrangements

If you’re considering requesting flexible work arrangements – which you can under the Fair Work Act – then prepare for that discussion with your manager or human resources department.

The key things to consider are:

  • How would you like flexibility to be incorporated into your role, in a way that works with your life as a new parent? Be specific about the hours, days and locations;
  • Remember it’s a two-way street, so explain to your employer how this will benefit them. “What sort of flexibility are you willing to offer and ask for in return?” asks Walsh. “How will it add value to the business?”
  • “Consider asking for a gradual return to work,” Walsh advises. “It’s tough going from full-time parenting one week to full-time work the next. Even if your gradual return is over a month, it can help that adjustment.”


Get down to practicalities

During your maternity leave, you’ll have realised how much there is to organise if you’re going to be away from your baby. Things to consider include:

  • Childcare arrangements. Have you organised care in a place you’re comfortable with? Also talk to your partner and any family members nearby about what you’ll do when your baby or carer is sick;
  • Make sure your support networks are ready to help, both in a practical sense and as an ear to listen if you’re struggling;
  • Talk to your partner about the house workload. Many women take on the burden of these duties while on maternity leave, however it’s unrealistic to continue once you’re back at work. Have some specific conversations about how you’ll share these responsibilities;
  • Feeding arrangements for your baby are a big consideration, too. Think ahead about whether you’ll be breastfeeding and, if so, how you will manage this during working hours. If your baby will be bottle fed while you’re away, make sure their carer has had a practice.


Be realistic

Perhaps the most important consideration when returning to work is your own expectations of yourself. The demands on you to perform at work and home can be draining, as can the feeling you’re meant to have everything under control.

“Manage your expectations, and set realistic intentions every day,” says Walsh. The key word here is ‘realistic’: be wary of the dangers of placing too much pressure on yourself. Try to go into each day with a good idea of how you’re going to manage what needs to be done, and ask for help wherever possible.