Returning to work after parental leave – Top tips
Here’s some top tips from PR Account Manager and super mum extraordinaire – Lindsay Womack – on how to ensure the returning to work process after parental leave is as painless as possible.
Having a child early on in your career can be daunting. It can almost feel like you’re setting yourself up for a professional roadblock before you’ve had the chance to get off the ground. After all, this is supposed to be a time when you want to fully immerse yourself in your career, putting every ounce of energy you have into being the best employee and working your way up – or at least, that’s one of the schools of thought that regularly does its rounds.
But it’s not just daunting for young moms. For those who are flying up the ladder and sit mid-point in their career, the thought of having a child might make you feel uneasy, like you’re creating setbacks for yourself. And the high flyers later in life may be wondering, how can I stay relevant and at the top if I step out now?
So when is there a good time for ambitious women, who are determined to achieve a strong career, to have a kid? As a young mom who has recently embarked on returning to work from maternity leave, I wanted to take a moment to share my thinking on this subject, and offer some learnings from my recent return to Luminous PR.
A career in PR has always been a top priority of mine. After leaving university with a BA in Public Relations, I jumped straight into the Tech PR scene and after I got some experience under my belt, I was able to become a part of the Luminous team. I worked hard to get where I was and although I was overjoyed when I became pregnant, I was also extremely worried how this was going to affect my career. Thoughts that came to my head were; Would my boss be angry? Was I letting my team down? Ultimately, I was worried about how this was going to set me back, and that I would be out of touch and completely irrelevant in a fast-changing tech landscape after I returned from my maternity leave.
A new remote world
What I love about technology most is that it is forever changing the way we are able to work and live. The work-from-home movement has been accelerated by COVID-19, and it’s thrown all sorts of challenges to businesses around how they operate: thanks to technology, organisations are navigating their way through the crisis. Fortunately for me, this is one challenge that I haven’t had to get to grips with as one of the major benefits to working at Luminous is that we have and always will be, a remote team. Flexibility is at the forefront of how the team works, gone are the days of a 9-5 office job! This made my transition from maternity leave to returning to work, as seamless as possible.
Let’s be honest here, 2020 has been a bit weird for everyone. COVID-19 has shaken us to our core, right across industries, and businesses scrambled to change the way they operated to make sure employees were healthy and safe. Communication tools such as Slack, Zoom and Whatsapp have been critical in keeping employees connected. But they’ve also opened a window for those on maternity too, who often feel a great and worrying disconnect from the team.
You’re so focused on the little life you just brought into this world that days and months pass you by. One thing that I really looked forward to during my leave was that every week, I was still invited to the team check-out calls. These are done every Friday where everyone dials in and talks about the highs, the lows and funny moments of the work week. If i couldn’t make it, it was no big deal but having the option to join them and hear about what was going on with work, and meeting some new starters really kept me engaged with what was going on at Luminous and projects that our clients were working on. This was very beneficial to my return as I felt that I still had a grasp around what our clients were up to. Because of this, I didn’t feel overwhelmed when I thought about the prospect of returning to work.
Tip #1 Stay connected and get involved – while you should enjoy your maternity leave and focus on your new baby, jumping on a catch-up call every few weeks can be beneficial in making the return process a little smoother. I found that I wasn’t as overwhelmed when hearing about the new clients I would be working with because I had, on occasion, already listened to what they had been working on. This was also a great way to get in some adult conversation and get that brain working a little bit!
Although technology and keeping in touch makes for an easier return to work, I still had my worries. I was excited to return to work and get some sort of a schedule and routine back in my life, but this daunted me because I had the overriding worry that I was going to have to put my baby in nursery. She was going to be without me for the majority of the day: queue Mom Guilt. There’s no getting away from this one no matter what ‘top tips’ article you read. But you can choose to deal with it in different ways that help you cope better. When I returned, my own emotions were in chaos: I wasn’t looking forward to being away from my daughter but I was looking forward to getting my brain back to work and feeling like I was working towards a goal again.
Tip #2 Let’s get something clear: it’s not selfish of you to want to get back to work, but it is normal to feel guilty about it. The conflicting feelings can make the return to work hard at first, some feel anxious about leaving their baby, but think of this… your baby is having a lot of fun at daycare! What’s the alternative? They stay at home and feed off your vibes as you juggle emails, calls, nappies, feed times, tears (yours and the baby’s). I promise you, daycare is a blessing, and they will blossom with it. You can have your quality time at the start and end of each day, and you can dedicate every one of those minutes to them. (Just like you can dedicate your work minutes to your job!)
Crawl, walk, run
Trying to prove yourself in week one is a natural instinct for returning moms (and dads) who are desperate to show that they are back in the saddle, they’re as valuable as they ever were, they can do it all. Well, newsflash – that kind of pressure is going to break you and actually do the opposite.
There’s a reason why we shouldn’t run before we can walk. And while it’s largely for our own mental wellbeing, it’s also an important part of (re)on-boarding that helps the company and team too with this transition period. Time to face facts – some things will have changed. Whether that’s a process, a team member, a client, or a product. So make sure you do everything you can to familiarise yourself with everything old and new.
Tip #3 Don’t be afraid to ask questions – Take some agreed time to get back in the swing of things and don’t pressure yourself to pick up exactly where you left off. Ask your team for any tips and tricks they might have learned while you were off to help you readjust a little better. No one is expected to know it all.
My we’re busy…
There’s no denying, so much has changed at Luminous during my year away:-
- we’ve got 2 new account directors, Klara Horvathova and Amanda Bunn who bring international B2B and B2C experience to the team
- we’ve taken on a heap of new clients, from global digital solutions and tech service providers, to health-tech systems and fashion-tech innovations.
- we’ve retained so much of our old business too – startups and scaleups alike – from physical-to-digital payment solutions to experience design experts and fintech services
- we’ve developed an even deeper sense of ‘doing what’s right’ and have committed to provide pro bono services for some incredible businesses that have helped out during the pandemic: mobile wash stations for schools; children’s hospital services; cashless donations and digital fundraising for charities; worker-to-charity matching; online coaching to help save the UK Arts industry; providing safety for staff working alone.
But at the core of it all, we’re still the same no nonsense TechPR agency. And I’m delighted – in spite of the ‘mom guilt’ – to be back!
To come full circle – is there a right time in your career to have a baby? There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all-answer. Whatever happens, whatever time you choose to do it, the world will keep on turning and evolving. But that doesn’t mean you have to get left behind.