Return to work from maternity leave
Mothers who plan to return to work from maternity periods can find it difficult.
When do you return? How will your colleagues react to you? Will you still have your skills, still be competent? What if you’ve forgotten everything, or been replaced? Do you even want to go back?
These are just a few of the questions that new mothers, returning to work after their maternity leave may find themselves asking.
The difficulties can be many and varied. Some aren’t prepared for how much they’ll miss their kids, some find themselves feeling guilty when at work for not being with their children, and guilty when they’re with their children for not being at work.
It can be a tough situation to deal with, both for the employees and the employers – and can demand that some big adjustments be made.
Even when an employee decides that they want to return to work, and think they are completely ready, the first few days can be challenging as they get used to working life again.
With the number of working mums in the UK having more than tripled since 1951 It’s important that some steps are taken, by both the employer and the returning employee, to make the transition as smooth as possible, ensuring that new parents feel valued and are able to confidently adapt and adjust to being a working parent and regaining a healthy work-life balance.
Our top tips
Make sure the time is right to return
Decide on the right time to return to work and stick to it. Don’t wait for the mythical perfect time, when you feel you’re probably ready, go for it – you’ll never be 100% sure, but the longer you put it off after you start to think it might be the right time, the harder it will get to go back.
Find your ‘working self’ again
Even the shortest of maternity leaves can be a couple of months, and a couple of months out of work can leave you fearing that all your skills and experience have deserted you. Make sure you know those fears are ungrounded. Stay in touch with your work friends, maybe do a bit of work from home before you go back to the office – just to re-acquaint yourself with the work. Do whatever you need to do to make sure that you remember you’re a valuable asset to your company.
Make the most of your new skills
Having spent a lot of time at home with your children will develop your people skills, your creative problem solving, your ability to multi-task, and your time-management skills. All skills that will come in handy in the workplace, so make the most of them – use them to demonstrate, as much to yourself as your employers, that you are just as competent (if not more so) than you always were.
Don’t be worried about asking for flexible work
Not only new parents seek flexible work. There are retirees, students and city high-flyers looking for a change of pace who desire flexible hours and location options too. Recent research has indicated that two out of three men seeking new positions consider flexible working to be an important factor when choosing to apply for a role or not. In addition, increasing numbers of employers are approaching the way they find new talent and focusing more on work finished and the quality of that work than where it is done or how many hours it takes to do.
Figure out the working pattern for you
You need to think of yourself here, and be as flexible in your approach to flexible working as you are in the flexible working itself. Remember that flexible working doesn’t necessarily mean part-time; it can be so much more than that. For example:
- Compressed hours – work five days-worth of hours in four days, leaving you a ‘free’ day to be at home with your children.
- Delayed start or finish – start later or finish earlier; allowing you to drop-off or pick-up your children.
- Project working – work full time for particular projects that your full attention is required for and part-time when there isn’t a particular project on, taking time off in lieu.
- Working from home – allowing you to complete your full hours whilst cutting out the commute and having time to drop-off and pick-up your children too.
- Job shares – where two people share a full-time job, enabling both to have a couple of days off during the normal working week.
The key is to get the right combination for both you and your employer; whatever that may be.
Make sure flexibility works both ways
Be brave and ask for the flexibility you need to make your work-life balance work for you, and make sure that it works for your employers, too. Be prepared to give something back to your employer in return for what they give to you. Also, make sure that you make a good business case for working flexibly.
Know your rights
A lot of employers don’t know what they can and can’t do when it comes to staff who are pregnant or on maternity leave. Make sure that you do. Print out information sheets and take them with you to speak to your employer. That way, everyone is on the same page when it comes to legals, and it makes sorting any issues that may arise much less painful.
What are your rights?
If you’re returning to work after 26 weeks or less, then you’re entitled to return to the exact job that you left when your maternity leave started. However, if you’re coming back to work after a period of more than 26 weeks off, then you retain the right to return to the same job, but, if your employer has a good business reason meaning you can’t return to the same job, then they have to offer you a suitable alternative on the same terms and conditions.
If an employer has made significant changes to the organisational structure of the business during an employee’s maternity period, leading to a shift in job roles – this could be a reason to change your job role upon your return. However, something of the ilk of an employer deciding to keep your maternity cover in your post and offer you a new role is not construed as a legally acceptable reason for changing your job upon your return.
If your employer fails to give you your old job back after your maternity leave, then you may have a claim for unfair dismissal and/or maternity discrimination and you should seek legal advice. You have three months from the date of your notification to make any claims and you should contact ACAS for Early Conciliation or Maternity Action.
Making your phased return to work a reality
My Family Care offer help and support plans to parents returning from maternity leave and businesses who wish to help their employees return, enabling them to ensure that their return to the office is seamless, addressing both the emotional and practical challenges returning from maternity leave can create, providing support when and how it is needed.
Ask for help if you need it
Remember, the goal is to find the work-life balance that works for you – and this may be different to what works for other people. You have to find the balance that optimises the time you have. And most of all, ask for help if you need it. Most employers will be accommodating to their staff, as they are valuable assets.
What can employers do?
Offer flexible working options. Create a ‘family feel’ at the office so your employees feel comfortable asking for help and flexibility when they need it; trust and empathy go both ways. Make it clear and simple for employees to understand what their returning options are and make sure you understand, too. If a problem arises, don’t just get the employee handbook out, treat every case individually and work out the best solution for all concerned.
In reality, there probably isn’t a ‘perfect’ scenario for returning from maternity leave – at least, not a one-size-fits-all option – but empathetic employers will make things easier.
And most of all, both employees and employers should remember that working out a solution is what everyone wants, so putting the time and effort in to do so, from both parties, is worth the effort.