Being 31 weeks’ pregnant (it still doesn’t seem real – even when it’s there in black and white) work should be something I’m thinking about winding down rather than starting afresh. But a few things recently have made me cast my mind back to when I started again post-mat leave just over two years ago. I had a difficult time back then, partly down to issues that I hope I don’t ever have to face again. And that’s without factoring in missing your little one, parental guilt etc. etc.
But there are definitely also positive learnings to be made from my experiences and if I could help my younger self to cope and can also remind myself for next time, here’s what I’d say.
Give yourself time
Pressure – we’re all familiar with the word. And multi-tasking, baby/work juggling certainly brings its meaning to the fore. So don’t let yourself add to the pressure you’re already feeling. It’s difficult coming back, particularly if you’re working reduced hours. You want to prove that your brain cells haven’t all died out during maternity leave and that you’re just as good if not better than before. You want to prove that you can cope. And you want to prove it all at once. But you can’t. They say the first 100 days in a new role are the most significant – how about flipping that on its head and giving yourself 100 days to get back into your job?
Roll with the changes
If your job’s anything like mine, things will have changed while you’ve been away. People will have left, joined, been promoted – a new office location was even set up in my nine months off. As if you haven’t had enough change in your life recently, here’s a whole new set and most of it you can’t do anything about. I found this strange and difficult to pick my way through to start with. The only thing to do is go with it. I’m sure senior colleagues will explain decisions to you maybe straight away or maybe in time. In the meantime, try and embrace it and see the positives. For me the new work landscape was one I had to discover over time, work politics and all.
Embrace your new found skills
I’ve written about it before but I don’t think the multi-tasking super-mum image is just a cliche. I honestly feel I’m a more productive person now. I rarely browse sites that aren’t work-related at my desk (that’s what naptime/the bit before bed’s for, to my husband’s annoyance!), I’m better at setting myself deadlines and sticking to them and I can get my head down on a task with a lot less procrastination. Leaving at a strict time 2 days a week has also helped me focus. Plus there’s a new-found common ground with colleagues or clients with children (just try not to bore those who don’t want to see endless photos of your weekend potty training trials and tribulations…)
Delegate where necessary (but only where necessary)
I found it difficult to strike the balance of working four rather than five days, and my head was stuck in the five-days-a-week mentality when I first returned. Plus, if I’m honest with myself, I wanted to show how much I had going on. For me, that meant I delegated too much to others on my Monday off. There’s always give and take and people have been generous, but adding to someone’s to-do list with non-essential tasks is never a welcome move. Instead, now I hold over what I can and hand over the absolute essentials.
And try to leave work behind
Again, I didn’t do this at the start. I checked and answered emails at all hours. But my advice would be to try not to get into this habit. Working evenings and on days off is exhausting and not what anyone’s paid for. Give yourself time to settle in but if you’re still finding you have to do this to keep up, make an appointment to discuss with your line manager. It’s easy for someone else to say but this is not a long-term solution.
Appreciate your time off
Never forget any days off are a privilege. If you’re lucky enough to be able to work flexibly, appreciate it as lots of people aren’t in that position. At the same time, it’s worth also bearing in mind there are benefits to your employers – a potentially more productive person has returned, or at least equally productive, for a reduced rate.
If you’re starting back soon, good luck and you’ll be fine. It’s scary and can be emotional but you all too soon get back into the swing of things. If anyone else has any top tips I’d love to hear them.