Transitioning back to work after your parental leave is challenging. You’ve been away from the office hustle and bustle for months and can consequently be plagued by feelings of doubt on your return. Will you be able to cope with the workload on top of caring for a new child? How many things about the job or office processes have changed in your absence, and most importantly will you be able to keep up with/handle these changes?
The important thing to remember when returning to work after an extended leave of absence - and especially when coming back from parental leave – is that there is no 'best’ way to do things. Different routines and mechanisms will suit different parents depending on their individual situation. Reentry into the workforce after a life-altering experience like a new child has its unique challenges, so the most important thing is that new parents take the time to determine what routine is going to work best in order to ensure maximum engagement and job satisfaction. To help with this task, Design & Build have outlined a few key steps that can help navigate those first few weeks back at work:
Consider Your Schedule
Once deciding to return to work (be that a previous position or a new one) it’s important to establish at what capacity you want to return. Not everyone will have the option, but if you do, it’s important to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of gradually returning to work by working two or three days initially or resuming full-time work from the get-go. For example, a significant advantage for working a few days a week initially is that you can give yourself time to learn how to balance the demands of your job with the demands of your new home life. It also forces you to prioritise better as working part-time (at least temporarily) means you can’t dawdle or procrastinate on things. You only have a finite amount of time to get things done and consequently will become great at prioritising tasks and completing them efficiently. On the flip side, a disadvantage of working part-time for the first few weeks or months of starting a job could lead to confusion surrounding your work schedule – especially from other colleagues. Meetings might be scheduled in your absence, or things might need to be signed off in your absence. These can be easily fixed, if clearly communicated when you first start but is something to consider when weighing up coming back to work gradually. You also need to be aware and comfortable with the fact that decisions on projects you’re working on could be made in your absence.
The biggest advantage of starting back at work immediately is that it will allow you to properly test-drive the career you had prior to going on leave. You can do some data gathering and determine if you have the capacity to resume your previous work routine while juggling your new parental duties. If this routine becomes too overwhelming, you can always make adjustments from there. However, this is also the disadvantage of starting back at work full time; it will be a harder transition and might be putting too much additional pressure on yourself.
It’s important to remember when making this decision that neither choice is right or wrong, it’s just about working out what routine will work best for you and your family.
Reconnect with the Office
Once you have an idea of how you want to return to the office, it’s important to communicate this with your employer; specifically the HR team and your manager or team leader. Ideally, organisations should maintain communication with an employee from the time they go on paternity leave until the day they come back to the office, in order to keep them up-to-date with any team and company news and ultimately help with the transition back into working life. However, it’s important to reach out to HR and or your manager when you near the end of your leave (if they haven’t already) to discuss the available options about returning back to the office. This can be done via a meeting (zoom or in-person) or a more informal coffee catch-up. Before your catch up, you can list the key things you want to cover before returning to work: what date would both you and the team feel best for you to return, will there be any training on or prior to your return that you’ll need to complete, is there any paperwork that needs to be signed, are there any childcare facilities on-site, what flexible working options are available etc.
Being able to talk these things out during a meeting or catch-up before starting back at work is beneficial, as you get a clearer idea of what to expect and consequently can properly prepare yourself. By talking things out with your HR team or manager, you can also get a greater understanding of their expectations of you coming back to the office and see if these expectations align with your own. If there is anything that doesn’t match up, you have an opportunity to raise it ahead of time and work together to develop workarounds. For example, if they expect you to attend a weekly meeting that starts at 4:00pm but daycare closes at 4:30pm each day, maybe you can organise with your manager to work from home the days these weekly meetings are on.
Many also suggest avoiding scheduling your first day back at work on a Monday as a full week back in the office makes for a difficult transition. A Thursday or Friday return date will allow you to have the weekend to recalibrate and fix any potential issues with childcare, scheduling etc. (Burry, 2021.)
Communicate With Your Team Colleagues
Within those first few weeks back at work, be mindful of how you manage your relationships with colleagues as you settle into your new routine – especially your direct team. According to Daisy Waderman Dowling (the founder and CEO of the consulting firm for working parents and employers Workparent) having a clear idea of what your schedule and plans are and effectively communicating them, ensures that others don’t make assumptions (Knight, 2019). Letting people know of your requirements from the get-go – for example, that you need to leave every night at 5 pm on the dot, means that colleagues are less likely to schedule meetings with you at 4:30 pm. Of course, things can change depending on the situation, and we all need to allow for some flexibility however when you explain your schedule requirements to your team clearly and from the beginning – the easier it is for everyone to learn how and when to adjust to this schedule as needed.
Finally and most importantly, it’s important to remember that returning to work after any extended leave of absence is a process and one you shouldn’t face alone. While going through the process, and especially during moments where you feel challenged, it’s important to seek out support and encouragement. There are a number of online support communities you can join or you can build connections with other people in the office with young children and learn about their own experiences. Your first port of call should be reaching out to your employer to see what resources they have for new parents. According to Rebecca Grainger, CEO of Triiyo (an HR automation tool that simplifies the way organisations connect and communicate with their people during workplace transitions like parental leave) there are a lot of progressive policies organisations can and are starting to put in place to ensure employees have a positive experience when returning to work. These include encouraging fathers as well as mothers to take parental leave; ensuring meetings are held during the working day in-between pick-up times so all team members can attend; keeping in touch and providing tools to support employees during parental leave; and the promotion of staff while pregnant or on parental leave (Grainger, 2021).
For those looking to get back into the workforce after paternity leave and looking for new opportunities that align with the demands of their new home life, Design & Build have a number of exciting opportunities with local government and organisations that have a strong focus on workplace flexibility and work-life balance. Furthermore, our consultants specialise in finding roles that best suit the capabilities, interests, and values of their clients, and have some great advice for those wanting to brush up on their interview skills, fine-tune their resume or want general support as they dip their toe back into the job market.
You can contact our team at email@example.com to find out more.
 Madeline Burry. (2021) Tips For Going Back To Work After Maternity Leave. The Balance Careers. Retrieved from: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/tips-for-returning-to-work-after-maternity-leave-2062223
 Rebecca Knight. (2019). How To Return To Work After Taking Parental Leave. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2019/08/how-to-return-to-work-after-taking-parental-leave
 Grainger, R. (2021). Parental Leave Transitions With Drop Bio. Triiyo. Retrieved from: https://www.triiyo.com/news/webinar-parental-leave-transitions