Returning to work after 4 months of maternity leave can be a challenging experience for many mamas. After the blissful (and busy) weeks of adjusting to a new baby, a mother can be overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and a fear of being unable to cope. Remembering that every family’s situation is different, new mamas can prepare for a successful transition back to work in the following ways:
1) Where is baby going?
Decide on your childcare arrangement before you return to work. Many childcare arrangements require you to book early, and prepare in advance. Hiring a full-time nanny or enrolling your child in an infant care centre near your home or office may require you to make some phone calls and get things set up within thefirst month of your maternity leave. Give yourself ample time to plan for this and do as much research as possible – you want to know that you baby is in good hands when you are away at work.
2) It’s all in the family.
With a new addition to the family, it’s advisable to discuss with your spouse (and perhaps grandparents) the responsibilities they may have to take on when you return to work. For example, if baby falls ill, and you are unable to take time off to take him to the doctors, can hubby help out? Or can grandpa pick junior up and take him to the pediatrician? Have a back up plan and schedule in case of emergencies. Remember, there is some truth to the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”… so rope in help if you need it!
3) Reassess your existing work arrangment. Prior to delivery, it’s advisable to start planning the type of work schedule you will adhere to after baby arrives. With a change in lifestyle, ask yourself some basic questions about your existing work arrangement:
Does your job allow you the flexibility to manage the new role of being a mother? Ask yourself how much flexibility you want when you return to work.
Would you consider working part-time, allowing you to spend half-days with your baby?
Are you agreeable to traveling overseas on work trips, either monthly or weekly?
If you breastfeed, will your current work environment and schedule allow for it?
If you choose to negotiate for a Flexible Work arrangement, it may require you to take a pay cut. Are you prepared for that?
4) Get your employer prepared. It’s always good to build an honest, communicative relationship with your employer. Have a discussion about possible changes before you go on your maternity leave. Let him or her understand that your situation will change once the baby arrives. Work-family balance may now be a priority for you but assure your employer that despite the change, you are still committed to your job. Give your employer ample time to be prepared – no one likes to be informed of last minute changes. Having a good relationship with your direct supervisor can help when you want to ask for a more flexible arrangement later.
5) Refresh your skills.
Being away from work for some time can be very daunting, especially if your daily office schedule has been replaced by milk feeds and diaper changes. Take a day or two (about a week before you restart work) to pay a visit to the office. Get reacquainted with your colleagues, catch up with what has been happening – any new systems to learn? Any new colleagues to meet? Any new processes to adjust to? Being prepared can be as easy as being aware and informed of the changes. Ask your supervisor to send you the latest department plans that took place while you away. This can help you to feel more “equipped” and less lost when you head back to work.
6) Asking for flexibility. If you would like to request for a Flexible Work arrangement in your existing role, it might be best to speak to your employer at least 1-2 months beforehand. You might opt for a shorter workweek, a part-time option or a work-from-home option. Each Flexible Work Arrangement is likely to require some job redesign. Workload may be re-delegated, work schedule may have to change and the team dynamics will be affected.
7) Network with other mamas in the company.
Try to have coffee with colleagues who have previously gone on maternity leave. Now that you have more in common, you will be surprised at the level of support you can provide to each other when you head back to work.
8) If you decide to look for a new job. Start preparing early. No job appears miraculously just because you want it. Ask yourself what working arrangement would you like? Where do you think you can find that arrangement? Then, start your job hunt.
9) Compromise is key. There is no perfect job in this world. Be aware of what is important to you as you conduct your job search. Often employers are eager to hire potential employees who are clear about what they want and how they can contribute to the firm. Focus on a win-win situation when negotiating for a mutually agreeable work arrangement. On the home front, remember to also work out an arrangement that is good for all. Sometimes, you may be looking for the perfect babysitter or the perfect childcare centre – and there might be a challenge to find it. Be clear about what’s important to you, and your “must-haves”. Basing your choices on that criteria (rather than looking for the ‘perfect’ place or person) will help minimize your stress.
10) Go easy on yourself. You have had a life-changing experience! It’s important to give yourself a break. When you restart work, you are going back to a familiar environment, but with an additional role (a mama!) so throw out the ‘perfectionist’ in you and go easy on yourself.
Sher-li founded Mums@Work (Singapore) in 2010 because she is, quite simply, a mum at work. This social enterprise promotes work-family balance for mums by listing Flexible Work positions, running Career/Mumpreneur Workshops and organising career fairs and networking events. And of course, Sher-li loves mums! She also loves the employers who hire mums. A mother of 2 young children (a 5 year old chatterbox and a 19-month-old energizer bunny) Sher-li survives on little sleep, café lattes and the occasional vanilla cupcake. Her catch-phrase, “Flexiwork Mums and Mumpreneurs, it’s time to rule the world!” is pretty much how she sees life.