Two days into my return to the office and I’m in my element. But I know that it’s not like this for everyone, and with that in mind I thought I’d share how I managed my transition back to work in case it is useful for any other parents out there. I really do feel that this “transition” is massively attributable to how I’m feeling about work right now. Of course there are other elements that contribute to how you feel about work after returning from maternity leave, but I feel like the right type of transition back into the workplace can help soften the blow of returning to the office after a long period out of it. So here are my five tips for returning to work after maternity leave in a nice short list, because everyone loves a good list, especially us time pressed parents!
1. Arrange childcare as soon as you can bear to think about it. Dont leave it to the last minute, especially not a month or two before you are due to go back to work. I know you don’t want to think about leaving your child with someone else for a whole day, let alone potentially a whole week, but it makes sense to start considering your options early on. By early on I mean six months to a year before you think you may go back to work. It may sound a bit extreme, but a lot of nurseries and childminders have waiting lists, especially the good ones. You can register and put your child’s name down on waiting lists and with childminders early on without having to commit, so it makes sense to. That way you can buy yourself some time and start thinking about it more seriously closer to your return to work. We were lucky in that we have been able to arrange childcare with family nearby, but before we started exploring that as an option we considered nurseries and childminders, all of which seemed to have children booked up a year in advance. Once you make the decision about when to return to work you need some time to get your head round it, so the last thing you want just before you go back to work is the stress of ringing around and finding out that most places are full already.
2. Use KIT days if you want to, but don’t feel like you have to. Early on during my maternity leave I thought that I would try to use all my KIT days. But as time went on and it came to actually committing to using a KIT day, I actually found I was very reluctant to do so. I mean, who actually wants to go back to work when they’re on maternity leave, even if its only for a few hours. Not me. However, I realised that I did actually need to speak to HR and my managers about when and how I would return to work so I used a few to have these types of conversations. I also used one or two of them to spend a few hours going through the extraordinary number of emails that had built up in my inbox over the year. So using a KIT day doesn’t have to mean actually doing a typical days work. If your employer is happy for you to use them as you need to as I have been able to, then they are actually pretty useful in helping you get things in place for your return. Plus you get paid for them. What a great way to bump up that SMP pay!
3. Phase back your return to work if you have the option to. I have agreed with my employer a phased return over a few months, starting with a three day week, then building up to four days a week before returning to a full time five day week. I was pretty anxious and stressed about when the “right time” was to return back to work, until I realised that there would never be a “right” time to return to work. Once I thought more creatively about how I could try to have the best of both worlds and proposed a phased return to work to my manager I felt instantly more relaxed about returning to work. This way I get to still spend time with my little lady each week, I can ease myself back into working and I get paid. Winning.
4. Do a few practice runs. I may be stating the obvious here, but its a good idea to test in advance what your child is going to be like without you for a few hours or a full day. It also gives you a chance as parents to start working through any feelings and emotions you might have about leaving your child in someone elses care. From a practical perspective, you can start to get an idea about how the work day routine might work; who’s going to do pick ups and drop offs, how you’re all going to get ready and out the door in time and what things you might need to make it all work smoothly. We did a couple of practice runs the month before I went back to work, first starting with a few hours then building up to a full day. I think this really helped us all settle into our new routines gradually, but with our eyes wide open.
5. Go back on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. I returned to work on the 1st of May which was a Thursday. It was purely coincidental that my first day back was a Thursday, but on reflection it actually worked out really well that my first week back was a two day week. It has given me a taster of what it is going to be like going back to work, how tired im going to be and how much more organised I need to be. Although it has been quite nice going back to work, it is a massive shock to the system, one that I’ll be much more prepared for this week because I had a sneak peek last week.
These are the five things that worked really well for me. If you are starting to think about the return to work, then I hope you find at least one or two of these useful. If you have previously done the return to work, or are preparing to return to work then I would love to hear from you with the tips that you would add to this list. I always find it really helpful to learn from others experiences, especially as a new parent!
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