Returning to work, from Parental Leave

Hi Friends,

I returned from Parent Leave almost a year ago. I went back full time at the beginning of the pandemic, completely unprepared and I struggled to be a good parent, partner and employee.

After a terrible 3 months, working full time with a baby on my lap, delivering critical technology infrastructure to the NHS to enable them to provide new services required from Covid 19. I took a week’s holiday and reflected what I needed moving forward.

I planned with my manager to reduce my hours (less than part time), using all my annual leave and brought more. The financial impact of going part time was huge and I used every saving, stock and share I had to be able to do this. A luxury most people don’t have but something I have worked hard to put in place if I ever needed it. Plus I have benefited from the bonus of outgoings being low from the pandemic and staying at home.

This then gave me the ability to tread water and ease myself back in slowly. Taking time to reflect and use my new identity as a Parent to be better. The return to work was bumpy and the identity change of being a working parent was harder than I imagined, or anyone had warned me. Throwing myself back in at my past pace on day 1, in a Pandemic with no childcare was STUPID and I only have my ego to blame.

I really struggled with my new identity. My bold ambition that has been a key driver in my being is still there. But now I have a counterbalance of the want to stay at home with this amazing human and giving her and our family the best.

When I brought up my return to work, people said… ‘You will not get this time back. Enjoy it’! Which I get and I feel it and I want it. I am not in a position to be able to not work. My income supports my family. Also, if I take a back seat, what will happen to my career that I have built and my ambition to be where I want to be, to deliver substantial change for a better future for the world. In the news everywhere is Women being forced out of work due to Pandemic. Women’s pension and saving affected by career breaks.

There is no such thing as balance. Only trying to do the best, in your situation. In April, I go back 4 days a week and try like so many women have and will do, to get the balance right.

What I learnt from my return to work…

  • Don’t do settling in at childcare the same week you return to work. Your child needs to adjust and so do you. Some children love it and will not look back. Some, will take weeks to adjust. 8 in our case, when the lockdown ended and she got a place. It can come out in their behaviour and sleep. Long hard night’s are hard enough without trying to manage your return to work.
  • Go to bed early, don’t make any plans. Give yourself the time to focus on the return to work and the adjustment it has to your life and your family.
  • Organise your home life to make it easier, food shop delivered, easy meal plans, frozen meals.
  • Communicate with your partner, friends and family. Let them know you will need support. Whether that’s your friends texting ‘YOU GOT THIS’ and not asking for lengthy debriefs, your partner or support network cooking meals and doing childcare pick ups.
  • Enable others to give you support, by telling them what you need.
  • Agree to come back gradually, build up to your working week.

Things to do, to make it easier…

  • Tackle your inbox first. Write down everything you do not understand, new processes and anything you have a question on.
  • Attend team meetings, in listening mode and ask your manager to not put you on the spot. If they do and you don’t know what to say, ask to be last in a group setting or say you will get back to them.
  • Ask for a return to work buddy, another parent that has been on parental leave and can support you in your transition.
  • Ask your managers if any training courses have happened whilst you have been off. Can you attend these? Are there any recordings of training sessions carried out that you can re-watch?
  • Ask your manager to nominate someone or go through every process that you need to do in your job to make sure it is fresh in your mind and nothing has changed.
  • Take notes! Record sessions! You will be adjusting, learning and in a flux of change. You will not remember everything. You will not need to use everything in the next 3 months either.
  • Schedule in 1:1 with your manager every week for the first three months. This will give you the opportunity to be open and for them to learn from your experience to improve the return to work for others.
  • Review your list made from your inbox review and what gaps you have in knowledge with your manager.
  • Reflect what it is that didn’t work previously and isn’t going to work in your return to work with parental responsibilities. What change are solutions need to be put in place? Discuss this with your manager.
  • Schedule time in your diary to reflect on your week and discuss these reflections with your manager in 1:1. What has been going on this week home and work? What did you prioritise? What did you learn? How will you move forward with what you learnt?
  • If you do not have a manager that you feel you can do this with? Use your buddy or find someone that can support your return to work.
  • If peer’s have been promoted whilst you have been off. Don’t push yourself hard to be where they are, as quick as possible. View your first 6months to year as a treading water role. Learn about yourself as a working parent and what you want for your future.
  • You have not lost anything by going on parent leave, you have nothing to prove to anyone. You are on your own path.
  • You have been doing the most important job in the world. You have learnt things about yourself, gained new skills and once you are up to speed and managing the balance… you will be better than you were ever before.

Is there anything else, that you learnt or did that could help someone? Do you have a return to work buddy system? If not, why don’t you volunteer to set one up?

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