Returning to Work – Preparing for a Smooth Transition
Returning to the work place after a career break is a prospect that can bring out a varied range of emotions.
Whilst some of us will be champing at the bit at the chance to regain a work identity, there will be many others struggling with the thought of new priorities and worried about the logistical challenges of juggling work and family. But whether you are returning to an old employer after a period of maternity leave, or starting a new job after a longer spell out of formal employment, the answer to a smooth transition lies with a bit of forward thinking and careful planning.
Take time to network
As tempting as it may be to exist in a bubble, free from office politics and professional debate, it makes sense to stay connected during your time out of the workplace. Keeping professional memberships up to date can be a good way of staying in touch with industry developments, as can an active LinkedIn account. Keep your ear to the ground to find out about any relevant networking events – there’s no reason why your work networks shouldn’t be expanding during your time at home.
Keep in touch
If returning to your existing employer, make the most of any KIT (Keeping In Touch) days that you are able to negotiate. Up to 10 of these may be used without affecting your maternity rights and can be a great way of accessing training or just familiarising yourself with work practices. Remaining in contact with your employer will also be essential if you wish to propose a new flexible working pattern for your return. Be aware – such processes can take longer to negotiate than you think so be sure to start early.
Seek a sympathetic ear
It’s good to talk – arrange a meeting with your boss upon your return. If you are feeling anxious, explain this. If they’ve been through it they will almost certainly understand and if they haven’t then don’t expect them to be mind-readers. It is very simple for people to overlook the lack of work confidence that can come with taking significant time out from the work environment. But it doesn’t mean that, with the right kind of support, you won’t be a brilliant asset to the company. Search out allies – have people (colleagues, friends who’ve been through it…) around you who you can talk to when you need it. This will help you to realise that – whether you are an enthusiastic or a reluctant returner – the feelings you are having are completely normal.
Plan for the inevitable
Make your return as comfortable as possible by ensuring you have childcare in place that you are confident with. Be it a nursery, childminder or family member, having a reliable set up in place will allow you to leave the anxiety behind and focus on the job ahead. Consider, if necessary, ways of easing yourself back into work gradually by using accrued annual leave to work on a part time initially, whilst increasing your hours over time.
Be kind to yourself
We are our own worst critics. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself by setting your own expectations sky high. You’ve been out of the work place for a while so it may take time to find your feet. That doesn’t mean that you won’t need support, or that you won’t be brilliant. The truth is that there can be no one more productive than a working mum – all that time spent multi-tasking in your home life means that you have all the tools needed to be a great investment to your employer. Alternatively, there is nothing wrong with wanting to return to work. Don’t beat yourself up with guilt for wanting a bit of ‘you’ time away from the kids and a step back onto the career ladder.
Motherhood affects us all in different ways and, certainly, some industries and employers are prepared to be more flexible than others around this emotive subject. This is why there can be no ultimate blueprint for return to work success. But simple preparation, research and planning can make things a whole lot easier, whatever your circumstances. Good luck!
Hannah Morton-Hedges is an experienced careers adviser and mum of two young children. Through her company Momentum Careers Advice she provides independent and impartial support to a varied client base across the UK, including woman returners and career changers.