Adjusting to parenthood is magical, but it’s also strange. It’s odd to think back to last spring as my daughter’s due date approached. Although the anticipation and excitement of parenthood was just on the horizon, it was also the first period in my life I would not be working. Not identifying and connecting as my professional self.
My past life of travelling to client offices, industry research, sales calls, and leading presentations slowly faded into sleeplessness nights, playdates, and nurturing a beautiful tiny human. The last thing on my mind was returning to work until my daily to-do list shifted to interviewing daycares, preparing for being away from my daughter for hours at a time, and announcing my return-to-work date.
There are a ton of emotions and thoughts that come with the end of maternity leave. Honestly, it’s a bit scary. Returning to work can feel eerily like you’re choosing your career over your child. After daily performances of “This Little Piggy” and “The Itzy Bitzy Spider” the idea of work conversations with adults can feel intimidating and unfamiliar. But there is also a strangeness that comes from this newfound identity meeting your past self – the mom I have become and the professional businesswoman I once knew.
I loved and leaned into being a full-time mom, and keeping up with daily corporate news, industry reports, business challenges and trends was challenging. Over the last year, a completely new world of work emerged without me. The pandemic continued to shift the status quo, and present new employer brand challenges and solutions. Truthfully, anxiety set in. I wondered with all the change in the world of work, where will I fit? Will my insights, experience, and skills still be relevant? Or had I been completely left behind?
The reality is all new moms face difficulties in returning to work and it requires a lot more forethought than you might expect. By preparing yourself during maternity leave, you can feel more empowered in your choice and ensure a smoother transition. For businesses, you can ensure your corporate policies are communicated in advance of an employee’s return date, ensure managers are trained and lead with compassion and understanding, and your HR team reaches out to offer support. As long-time champions and advocates for positive employee experiences, Blu Ivy and I recognize the importance of a happy, supported employee leading to higher engagement, resilience to stress, and less likelihood of burnout in the future. Delivering a supportive, inclusive and branded employee experience does require employers to look at the Returning Parent Persona. There are wonderful ways you can make the return easier on new parents and ensure that they find their productivity and fit rather quickly.
Here are some examples of how Blu Ivy and I have navigated my return.
1. Discuss A Flexible Return to Work Plan
Simply asking your manager or HR representative about the possibility of easing back into work with a Flexible Work Arrangement is a good first step. I am fortunate enough to work with a company that prioritizes the health and wellness of its employees. After all, Blu Ivy knows the state of disengagement and burnout in the workforce worldwide.
I was anticipating returning to work full-time but decided on a gentle return with flexible work hours to help with my transition and my daughter’s introduction to full-time daycare. Being able to adjust my day around my parental responsibilities helped to not only manage my shifting mindset and emotions, but also temper the changes of returning to remote work, acclimatizing to daily meetings and work responsibilities, and simply just being at a desk most of the day.
2. Be Honest About How You’re Feeling
Having your boss’ support can make a huge difference. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a strong manager-employee relationship and not everyone is comfortable expressing vulnerability in their workplace. As a parent, your perspective shifts, and the way you used to work may not work for you now. Honesty about how you’re feeling about your return may not be easy, but it does provide your manager with a deeper understanding of how they can best support you, adjust your workload or schedule, and better manage expectations as you find your footing.
3. Book Time To Connect with Your Colleagues
Most organizations have seen ample changes in the years of the pandemic. Any maternity leave duration over the last two years is bound to be met with missing or new faces. Ask your manager to arrange a special “Welcome Back” meeting with your team to get the lay of the land, meet new team members, and get oriented on your first day. Personally, seeing the smiles and receiving such a positive reception to my return eased many of my worries right off the bat.
I would also encourage you to reach out to colleagues across your company to learn what they’re working on, what’s changed, and how they are doing.
Regardless of working remotely or in office, it can be lonely and intimidating to jump back into our familiar work routine without taking the time to connect with those surrounding us and build relationships where asking for help is welcomed and encouraged. Start working on a go-forward basis. Ask coworkers to help you get up to speed and resist the urge to go through old emails to figure out what you missed.
4. Practice Patience and Self Compassion
Knowing my previous bandwidth, hours, and workload did raise my own concerns for my return. With the very real shift in priorities that comes from becoming a parent, I feared that I would not be able to jump back in with the same energy and focus. Being a working parent is a balancing act and takes time to find your footing so be patient. Practice self compassion through setting realistic expectations for yourself and others. Plan for more time to complete tasks before committing to due dates and take time to reflect throughout the day. This is a new meeting of two independent worlds, you will find your groove.
5. Prioritize your Mental Health
Whether working from home or in office, take time throughout the day to care for yourself – especially if you struggled to find time during your leave. Keep track of your emotions and check-in with yourself throughout the week. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask.
Take time to practice gratitude, connection with your colleagues, and get a bit of exercise throughout the day whether it’s a quick walk or some stretches by your desk. Asking your colleagues for a “walking meeting” is also a great way to build rapport and support their mental health as well. By keeping your mind focused on positivity and belonging in your new, yet familiar surroundings, you’ll be better set up to manage stress and anything else that comes your way.
Going back to work is equal parts exciting and heartbreaking. But the work hours away from my beautiful Ava, can also be empowering – with the right perspective. Being back in ‘work mode’ has brought me new confidence and the energy boost I needed to greet parenting with a refreshed, open heart. I’m finding myself revitalized to spend time with her in the mornings and evenings and cuddles are more precious. It’s ok if it’s easy, and it’s ok if it’s hard – just be gentle with yourself and with the right support, you can thrive.
Great employer brands embrace the adjustments that early parenthood demands of working mothers and fathers. As your organization builds out your talent personas, don’t look exclusively to the roles you are seeking to fill, but the stage of life your employees and target demographics. Onboarding, balance, and support can take a bit of a different lens on what matters most to new parents. How we are welcomed and supported makes all the difference to loyalty, pride and productivity in the workplace.
Director Business Development
Blu Ivy Group
Blu Ivy Group is a global leader in employer branding, organizational culture, and recruitment marketing. We help organizations across the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors build extraordinary employee experiences, magnetic employer brands, and high-performance cultures.
From C-Suite to Employer Brand and Talent Acquisition leadership, we partner with our clients to transform their organizations and design the most compelling workplaces of the future.
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