Career

This is what returning from maternity leave really looks like

While you may not change, people's perceptions of you will change a lot.

In November 2011, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 53 per cent of mothers with a child under two had returned to the workforce, so rest assured if you’re going back to work after having a baby, there are hundreds of thousands of women doing the same thing.

There's a lot of stuff you need to know before you go on maternity leave.

You need to find out what you're entitled to, learn about what you need to do to secure Paid Parental Leave and you need to consider all your options for after your maternity leave is up.

On paper, it seems like a fairly logical process, though sadly, figuring out how to manage when you're back can be tougher than you think.

Daniel Murray is an Empathy Expert and Business Strategist for Empathic Consulting who has been researching maternity leave in Australia.

His findings support the idea that the policies companies have in place for maternity leave "are not enough and parents are being made to feel 'inconvenient' due to stressed out and non-empathetic managers".

Daniel shared with us the story of Kate, who was shocked to find that people's perception of her had changed when she returned.

"Kate's first day back in the office didn't quite go to plan. Instead of getting her teeth back into her work and shaking off her self-confessed "baby brain", Kate was told she would be put onto the easier projects."

"Her manager was worried that she wouldn't be able to handle the tough stuff and with needing to leave at 5 pm each day, wouldn't be ready for the bigger projects."

Daniel suggests there are 3 ways this can be addressed

Connection

One major failing for Kate and many other employee-manager relationships we explored, was the lack of connection during her time on maternity leave. Kate had enjoyed being able to disconnect from work and spend time with her newborn.

But in the weeks leading up to her return, she had lost the previously close relationships she had at work. They didn't know what she wanted and she didn't know what the business needed. This lack of understanding resulted in assumptions, and we all know how well they work.

Our research found that 1 in 4 women had zero contact with their manager before returning to work, and 92% of these women reported a much less enjoyable transition back to the workplace.

To improve your return experience, build time to reconnect with colleagues and your manager. It can be just a call or email, but use this as a way to plan your return and rebuild the relationships that will be your biggest ally when you get back to the office.

Clarity

One of the drivers of Kate's challenge was a lack of clarity around where she wanted to go in her career. This lack of clarity didn't exist in Kate's head, mind you, she was very clear. Her ambition to be an executive in the strategy team was crystal clear in her mind. It just wasn't apparent to her boss.

Having a career plan, agreed with your manager, might sound like an obvious point. However, our research found, time and time again, the ambitions were either shared too late, or not at all.

Spend the time to think about what you really want and need. It can and will most certainly change over time, but being clear yourself will help create clarity for others.

Being clear on your needs, challenges, strengths and dreams can all help pave the way for a smoother transition and more achievable future.

Care

The last principle we found was about self care. 60% of the people we surveyed said the 8 weeks returning from maternity leave was less or much less enjoyable than normal. It is hard to adjust, it is emotional and the combination of separation, tiredness and child care can be a recipe for disaster.

In this time, leaning on the positive and supportive relationships is crucial. Those in our research who thrived through their most challenging times had a raft of people to help.

This will involve getting closer to workmates and letting them help. It involves finding external support networks, friends, family, neighbours and online networks.

Care is never simple. When you feel at your worst, you rarely want to reach out for help. Set up your support networks when you are feeling good and let them catch you when you slip.

It can actually be great!