Going back to work after parental leave can be a difficult transition to make. But to help ease your way back into it, you should first identify why you are feeling the pressure. According to a Harvard Business Review article by Daisy Wademan Dowling, founder and CEO of Workparent, a New York consulting firm that helps working parents, the challenge with going back to work “occurs when your status quo has been upended and you’re scrambling to adapt”.
But that’s not the only source of pressure, as Dowling reports. It could also come from the practicalities of work, such as logistics of childcare and appointments and a feeling of loss and separation from your child, including missing milestones like first steps. However, there are solutions you can apply and preventative measures you can put in place to make sure going back to your job as a new parent works for you, and your employer.
Practice makes perfect
As a new parent, it may help to run through a few rehearsals before going back to work, so it’s not too much of a shock to the system. Dowling suggests staging an “as if” morning a few days before returning. “Get the baby ready, do the caregiving handover and commute as though you’re really going to work,” she writes. “Run-throughs like these reveal potential snags … rehearsing gives you time to iron out the wrinkles.”
Having a healthy work-life balance can be a challenge at the best of times, and if you’re a new working mother or father, there’s more to consider. An article for CABA, a charity that supports chartered accountants’ wellbeing, recommends speaking to your manager about the pressure that’s being put on you at work.
“You may want to consider asking for flexible working, which every worker who has been with an organisation for more than 26 weeks has the right to do. This may include having flexible start and finish times, working from home, or compressing your work week so you don't have to work every day,” the article reports. This could help achieve a more sustainable work-life balance. The article advises that the proposal needs to benefit both you and your employer, and you will need to demonstrate that productivity won’t be compromised.
In an article for The Guardian, Sian Stranks, an HR manager, recommends talking to your manager to reset goals and priorities. “Don’t allow yourself to get anxious about the unknown when a simple conversation may be all you need to set things straight,” she writes. “How accountable you feel depends on the kind of employer you work for and whether or not they have great policies, role models and can adapt to change. We can all get swept up in the way things have always been done, rather than creating new ways of working that serve a better purpose in today’s reality.”
Thanks to smartphones, it’s easy to be connected at all times. However, you should set some guidelines with regards to checking emails and work communications after hours. CABA recommends that you set a deadline each day for when to switch off your work phone or checking emails and also avoid taking work calls or picking up emails while on holiday. If your job requires you to be available, in this instance you could agree a short window of time when you can respond if there’s something urgent to deal with.
In an article for Glassdoor, Lillian Childress quotes professionals from different sectors on their approach to being a working parent. She quotes Scott, an attorney, who believes the best way to maximise time with his children is to turn his phone off until they are in bed. “I think it really helps to create some boundaries around work and home, and an easy way for me to do that is to put my phone away when I get home,” she says.
Set aside time for family
It may sound simple, but setting aside scheduled time to spend with family can be a good way of creating a routine. CABA advises picking one evening a week to spend as a family – whether that’s watching a film, or taking the dog for a walk. “The main thing is that you do it together every week,” it reports.
In the Glassdoor article, Childress quotes Katie, a former lawyer, who says you should make “sacred time” for your child/children. It could be as simple as driving them to school in the morning and having dinner in the evening – or something more inventive such as a weekly ice cream date, she says.
Ease back in
When going back to work, don’t return as if nothing has happened. If you’ve been out of the workplace for weeks, months or years, it will take time to adjust. In an article for The Balance Careers, Katherine Lewis recommends returning to work mid-week. “You get a short first week back at work, and your baby gets an easy introduction to childcare. You might also want to explore going back on a part-time schedule for the first few weeks or months,” she reports. “Anything you can do to give yourself and your child time to adjust will help with the transition.”
What are your top tips for new working parents? Leave your comments below.
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