Returning to work after parental leave

In this third and final blog in the series, Charlotte Speak, founder of Power of the Parent, talks us through her tips about a smooth return to work after parental leave.

Charlotte works to help parents reconnect with their unique strengths, building their confidence and self-worth. She also works with organisations who want to make a positive difference to people by supporting their teams as their families grow. As a parent herself who had a corporate career in recruitment and coaching, she is passionate about the skills and abilities parents bring to the workplace.

Make sure to read the other blogs in this series – how to prepare to take parental leave, and how to stay in touch.

Meg: What are some of the biggest concerns people have about returning to work?

Charlotte: They vary hugely but some that I hear the most are that they don’t know how they’re going to fit ‘everything’ in (whatever everything looks like!), that they are going to have forgotten how to do their job, and that their personal brand is going to be shattered – parent first and everything else afterwards.

The negative narrative that parents face can really take over – and whilst some of these feelings have an element of truth for lots of us, they really don’t define us.

Meg: As the return to work experience can be intense, what practical advice can you give to parents about planning for it?

Charlotte: What’s going to be the kindest thing you can do for yourself? It’s a question that I get lots of people to think about. Is it saying no to something, trying something new, facing into a conversation, outsourcing a task or activity, or perhaps it’s a sharp look at your expectations?

I talk a lot about the impact that too high (and too low) expectations of ourselves and others can have, and I truly believe that with some honest conversations we can really help ourselves out a lot.

I’d always encourage returners to think about their boundaries as well – they’re likely to have shifted somewhat, so it’s even more important to take the time to actually identify and define them.

Meg: What about advice about the physical side of returning to work?

Charlotte: Looking after our physical wellbeing is mega important – fuelling your body is a huge topic that I think can go by the wayside for returning parents. We celebrate the cliché of getting a hot cup of tea, but it’s so much more than that. Meal planning is a must, along with getting time away from your desk (or equivalent!).

I’ve worked with a lot of parents who are so grateful to have some time to be themselves that they become a slave to their laptops and don’t actually make the most of time where they’re not having to factor in child-related logistics.

Meg: And what about preparing for the emotional impacts?

Charlotte: This is a big one isn’t it? Guilt is the word that pops up time and again, particularly for mums. I didn’t feel guilty when I returned to work but then felt guilty for not feeling guilty!! How daft was that?!

It can be a big change, so I’d encourage anybody to think about what usually helps them through change – things that bring calm, help you keep perspective, and remind yourself of your definition of success.

Ultimately it’s important not to push any of the emotions away; complete the cycle and let yourself feel it all. It ties to physical as well, but I often encourage returners to think about how they want to protect their time outside of work – so what do you want your family time to look like? And if you’ve got holiday to use up, I’m all for taking a day to yourself a few months in where you don’t have to think about childcare or work!

Meg: How beneficial are things like gradual returns to work, flexible or part time working? What would you say are the pros and cons?

Charlotte: I could go on forever with this one, so I’ll stick to my headlines – I think there are huge benefits to phased returns if that’s what feels right for you and it can help everybody adjust to new routines.

I do however know that for some of us it’s used as a delaying tactic – in that instance I’d be looking at what you’re delaying and why (that’s probably a whole other blog post!).

Right now, flexible working is synonymous with two things in my opinion – parents and anything less than full time. It’s so much more than that – we all have a reason to want to log off, don’t we? I’m a huge advocate of flexible working but I think there’s a much broader discussion needed to take it away from it being a parental issue and that it’s much more colourful than working three or four days a week.

Meg: How important is it for parents to be clear on their needs and to contract with their manager upfront?

Charlotte: I think being as clear as you can throughout the whole process is so important. Things change, so I think it’s important to remember that – you’re not signing your name to something that has to stick forever.

Work within the realms of trials and test things out wherever you can. It can feel difficult to get to grips with wants and needs, and we need to remember it’s a two-way discussion, but the more you identify what’s important to you and what success looks like, the better the quality of the line manager conversation.

I do hope this series of blogs has been useful if you’re considering taking parental leave for any reason. If you’re interested in strengths-based coaching, contact Charlotte, or for careers advice and coaching, you can book a free chemistry session with me by calling 07765 894040.


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