Returning to work after maternity leave

This is an honest blog about Maternity leave and some top tips from a HR professional.

“Are you looking forward to your extended holiday?”

“Lucky you, having all that time off…”

“I wish I was finishing work for that long…”

If you have ever heard one or all of these statements said to you by ‘Martin from Accounts’, then it is very likely that you were preparing to go on Maternity leave!

Let me paint the picture for you…You are 6 weeks into your maternity leave, and you are wondering exactly what Martin meant by the extended holiday, and you would like to know where you can get a refund for said holiday! Your days no longer involve your morning skin care routine, catching up with your work friends and tackling your ‘hectic’ work schedule! Days now start when baby says they start, there are no set tea or lunch breaks and you definitely do not work Monday to Friday anymore. You are starting to question how you ever thought you were busy and long for one of those pre-baby ‘busy days’.

Six months in, you have mastered your new routine and love spending every minute of the day with your baby. They are constantly learning new skills and you know the best is yet to come. Oh wait, your friend from work sends you a text asking how you are and if you are looking forward to returning to work?! The sheer thought of it brings unwanted anxiety.

You have finally got used to your new hectic schedule, how are you expected to fit work into that as well? You are full of panic, but your finances and outgoings will not allow you to give up your job completely so that is not an option. Once the anxiety fades and the irrational thoughts disappear you now start feeling consumed with guilt, you are actually looking forward to the idea of returning to work, how can this be possible when your baby needs you!

First of all, every one of these emotions are completely normal. Returning to work, no matter how long you have chosen to take off, can be a difficult time. As well as having to come to terms with leaving your baby, you will no doubt have thoughts such as, am I still needed at work and what if my replacement has done a better job?

So, let me share just a few tips that will hopefully make that transition a little bit easier and ease those overwhelming feelings.

  1. Make use of your KIT Days.

KIT days (Keeping In Touch Days) are a brilliant way to ease yourself back into the workplace, all Mums are entitled to 10 of these days. You will be paid, your usual rate of pay, for the KIT days you work, on top of any maternity pay you are due to receive. You should agree your KIT days in advance with your employer. Making use of these days will allow you to catch up on what has happened in the business since you started your maternity leave, and put those ‘is my job still there?’ thoughts to rest.

  1. Make use of any holidays you have.

Whilst on maternity you will still have been accruing holidays, depending on when you begin your maternity this can work out quite well for some Mums. If you are due to return to work full time, you could ask your employer, instead of carrying over the days into the new holiday year or being paid in full for them at once, if you could for example stagger your holidays. This means you will work less days or hours to begin with. This request should be put in writing before you are due to return and does not have to be accepted if it affects the smooth running of the business. This is why it is a good idea to plan out your request giving examples of how your role will not be affected.

  1. Organise your childcare in advance.

Consistent childcare when returning to work is a must. You do not want to add any more pressure to yourself by having to figure out and arrange childcare on a daily or weekly basis. If your baby is going to nursery, make sure you have a plan in place for who is taking them and picking them up each day. If they are being cared for by family, ensure that they are reliable and aware of your expectations.

Whatever childcare you choose, it is a good idea to give them an overview of your usual routine but try not to get too consumed with this as it is likely whoever is looking after your baby will find their own way of doing things to suit your baby’s needs. Babies are extremely resilient and will adapt in no time!

  1. Organisation, Organisation, Organisation!

From clothes, to lunches, having everything prepared the night before can be the difference between a good day and a rushed, hectic one. Preparing your lunch will help you to save money on overpriced convenience food too!

Also, you might want to rethink your hair washing rota, trying to wash your hair and get out the door with your baby all by 7.30am can be an almost impossible task! Dry shampoo for the third day running will become your new norm!

  1. Consider your employment options.

Every family situation is unique, but it is important to think about what the best scenario for you is before actually returning to work.

There are several reasons why you would need to end your maternity leave early such as financial concerns or wanting your independence back. Alternatively, you may want to extend your leave because of child care issues or the simple fact that you are just not ready to leave your baby. To make an alteration to your original maternity plan you should put the request in writing at least eight weeks before your maternity leave is due to end. This does not have to be accepted, so ensure you put some thought into what you say in your request.

If you are unable to return to work, you should put this decision in writing giving the notice set out in your contract. Therefore, it is a good idea to think about this before your leave is due to end as you may technically need to return just to work your notice. Do not forget that if you have received an enhanced maternity package you may be liable to pay some or all of it back to your employer, depending on your company policy.

Similarly, you might decide that you want to return part time, to do this you must submit a flexible working request. Make this request as detailed as possible, put yourself in your employer’s shoes and ask yourself the questions that you know they will ask and try to eliminate any of the concerns they may have. You need to convince your employer that you will still offer a vital service to the business and reducing your days or hours will not hinder your output of work. Asking for a trial period is often a good way to prove that the flexible working request will work for both parties.

Some final words…Although it is good to be career driven and passionate about your profession ensure to make time for other aspects of your life such as hobbies, your partner, friends and family. Yes, this might sound like an impossible task but you will be thankful for this advice. If you neglect every other aspect of your life, you may end up finding that returning to work has become a chore.

In conclusion, returning to work after having a baby can and will be a daunting experience. Do not put too much pressure on yourself. It will take you a while to navigate your way through your new routine, but you will get there! Becoming a Mum does not mean you have to give up your career, you can do both! The workplace can sometimes try to determine otherwise but if you believe in yourself everybody else around you will too.