Returning to work from Maternity - an employee’s point of view

Returning to work from Maternity; an employee’s point of view

In April to June 2021, the office of national statistics reported three in four mothers (75.6%) were at work in the UK, reaching its highest level in the last 20 years.

Having a baby changes everything, your life, your sleep, your bank balance and most importantly your emotions. Therefore, returning to work (be it in the office or working from home) is a huge deal. For some, it’s the first time they would have left their little one and they may be feeling anxious to return to work, or for some, they are ready and keen to get back into the work routine. Each to their own, but as a manager or an employer you need to be mindful of how the person is feeling and acknowledge that this will be a big adjustment. If you are returning to work yourself, be kind to yourself and be prepared for the change, it’s going to be a journey.

I have returned from Maternity leave twice, in two different companies and thankfully both have been positive experiences, so I thought I would share my feelings and encounters in this blog to help employers and employees alike gain another perspective. There are processes and best practice guides to follow but until you have done it yourself you can never be too sure what to expect or what that employee needs to make the transition as smooth as possible. It’s just like the saying ‘you never know how someone feels until you have walked a mile in their shoes. I won’t ask you to do that, just read, absorb, and empathise.

The night before I returned from my first maternity leave, I had butterflies. Anxiety and excitement were conflicting with each other in my brain, and I didn’t sleep much. A text message from my manager the night before wishing me luck (not that I needed it) and looking forward to seeing me meant a lot. Sometimes it’s the little things that go a long way.

KIT (keeping in touch) days were incorporated into maternity rights in 2006 and were designed to improve support contact between women and employers during maternity leave. In one company I took advantage of the full 10 KIT days and in the other company I completed about 5 (life became a bit more chaotic with two kids). By utilising these days prior to going back ‘permanently’ I felt well informed of business updates and any significant changes, nothing blindsided me upon my return. Some of those significant changes were the number of people who had left the business and in one instance that my line manager had changed 3 times within the year!! What I am highlighting here is that KIT days are essential for taking the sting out of the changes that have occurred. They aren’t mandatory but they are certainly worth it.

It is an expectation that managers or the organisation should keep in touch with people who are on maternity leave unless the person states otherwise. One thing I think it is essential to bear in mind with communication is that it’s a two-way street. I kept in contact with my managers, more so on my second return to work as we are friends as well as colleagues. If you don’t keep the lines of communication open, then it does make that return to work that little bit harder. You have to pick up, dust off and re-establish that working relationship, yet if you keep in touch, then it all feels a lot easier. In addition, you need to communicate what you would like to do as part of your return to work. Employers don’t know how you feel or in what capacity you want to return, so tell them, to work with them so you can get what you need.

Something that made me feel good on my first day back on both occasions was having time with my colleagues. Re acquainting with old colleagues and getting to know new ones, relationship building is paramount to a great company culture so don’t underestimate the value of it.

Being a person that loves structure to my day, having a light return-to-work plan was incredibly welcomed. A blend of meetings, focused research time and my own free time to get organised really helped me navigate the mental chaos that was swirling around in my brain.

Thankfully, we are privileged to work in a country that has decent maternity rights, and with that is the right to accrue annual leave in the same way as if the person was working throughout the same time period. In reality, this translates to a significant amount of holiday! Some companies have policies detailing how they wish you to use this, so do check your Employee Handbook. I used mine in a couple of ways: to allow me more paid time at home with my little one and to help me transition into full-time work again by working part-time hours whilst gaining a full-time wage.

More than a third (37 percent) of women felt so unsupported and isolated on their return to work they considered handing in their notice, and nine in 10 (90 percent) were not offered any formal support through a returner programme (People Magazine, 2018). 

So please take into consideration that if this was a member of your family, would you like them to feel like this? Recognition that returning to work is hard coupled with small actions and gestures mean the world to someone and really will make all the difference.

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