Maternity leave is coming to an end and you’re wondering how you’re going to get back to your life at work.
The hard truth is this: you’re not.
Motherhood changes you. Life changes you. So much has happened from your last day in the office. It has changed your perspective. It has shifted your priorities. You’ve already seen how it has changed so many things in your life. When you get back to work, you’ll discover new ways it has changed you. From the way you work to when you work to how you work with others.
But, it’s not just you that has changed.
Life may have changed for your manager or your colleagues. They, too, may be different. Your company may have undergone changes. So there may be changes that you’ll need to uncover.
What’s more, the people you work with will likely see you differently now that you’re a parent and they may treat you differently.
Their treatment of you may be well-intentioned or not. What is a guarantee is that how they see you and treat you may be a result of the unconscious biases that play in the background of their lives.
It’s a lot of shifting factors at play. Much of it you can get a leg up on by engaging in 3 key conversations ahead of your first day in the office.
Your company’s HR representative
Your HR representative can be a wealth of information for you. They’ve likely onboarded other new parents coming back to work after having a baby, so take time to speak with them.
Possible questions to discuss could be:
- What do I have to do to make sure I can get working on my first day (e.g., how do I reconnect technology; will my security badge work)?
- Will I have to re-enrol in my benefits package? How can I enrol my baby onto my program?
- As a new parent, will I need to update any other company policies (insurance, retirement program, etc)?
- Where can I privately and safely pump in the office?
In addition to these operational details, take the time to learn about any supportive programs available to you as a new parent. This could be work mobility, flexible work arrangements, access to parenting support groups, eligibility for coaching programs and more.
Learn how these programs work, eligibility for them and how others have benefited from them. If plan to use these programs, learn more about the process to get started.
Even if you have no intention to use these programs today, take the time to know what is available. None of us knows what the future holds for us.
Colleagues, mentors and others you trust at work
Before heading back into the office, you’ll want to get a good handle on what you’ll be walking back into. And, you’ll need an honest, less biased version of the facts. So, be sure to connect with trusted colleagues or mentors before resuming work.
This can be a catch up over the phone, but you may have more success getting the real goods by heading over for an off-site, baby-free coffee or lunch date.
As much as your friend will want to hear about your baby, make sure to use your time together to get a real pulse of things on your team and at your company during your absence.
Areas you’ll want to investigate could include:
- Personnel changes: Who’s left and who’s come in? And, what has been the impact of those changes?
- Scope or budget changes: Have budgets grown or been slashed? Is your team now focused on a key project? Learn how the team has changed and what that may mean for your job.
- Strategic shifts: If the company has made any significant changes during your leave, be sure to learn about them and what they could mean for you and your team.
- Employee sentiment: How is your colleague feeling about the company? What’s the general sentiment? Are people feeling optimistic or has something happened that people are worried? You won’t be able to do anything about this, but it’s always good to have a general sense of how others are feeling.
With the latest information, you can begin to prepare for the changes awaiting you at work. One word of caution: try to meet with more than one colleague. This way you can get a more balanced view of what’s been going on.
Becoming a working mom demands you work smarter, not harder. Your manager can help. Schedule a meeting with your manager. An out-of-office, informal coffee date may offer less distractions. But, you can also meet in your manager’s office or speak over the phone, too.
Your first goal from this discussion is to get a clearer sense of your priorities, so you can be sure to focus on what matters most to your manager and your team.
Some topics to cover are:
- Your role: If you’re returning to the same role, be sure to discuss priorities and measures of success for the coming year. You’ll also want to clearly ask if they foresee any changes in your job. If there are changes, take the time to fully discuss them, understanding the changes specifically, why they are happening and what will be expected of you.
- Team changes: You’ve already asked this question of your colleagues, but you’ll also want to understand your manager’s perspective on the team’s changes and how they will benefit/challenge the team.
- Your contribution: To make the very best use of your time when you return, take time to understand where your manager thinks you can best contribute to the team’s success. This isn’t the time to commit to any projects that are in addition to your job. Instead, take the time to discuss your manager’s priorities and upcoming opportunities or challenges he sees on the horizon.
This is a good time to set some expectations with your manager. Much of the unconscious bias that penalizes new mothers at work is a result of personal assumptions made by managers. Even those based on the very best of intentions can work against you and limit your career progression.
To help curb some of this bias, you may want to discuss these topics:
- Your career prospect: Let your manager know how you hope your career will progress over the next year. This could be taking on challenging projects, or perhaps you may want to scale back as you adjust to working motherhood. By setting your intention, you may be able to get there.
- Changes to your schedule: Set expectations as it relates to changes in your schedule. This could be your need to leave the office by a set time for daycare pick-up, your need to make time during your day to pump, or your wish to work remotely on given days. If you’re considering one of the company’s more flexible programs (or have already made your decision), this may be the right time to talk about it. You may want to check in with HR ahead of time to ensure you’re following protocols so you don’t jeopardize any approvals that you’ll need.
How open your conversations will be will depend on what you are comfortable sharing and what your company’s culture allows. It may require balance and tact, which isn’t always easy. However, being prepared for what lies ahead and starting to plant the seeds that could curb unconscious bias will serve you well further down the road.
Let me know how your conversations go. And, if you have any additional advice to share to new moms venturing back to work, be sure to let me know in the comments below.
Best of luck, mama!
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