Parental leave and the return to work

Having a baby is a life-changing experience. It alters everything from your living circumstances to your sleep patterns. And while parental leave is a wonderful opportunity to focus your energy on your newborn, the eventual return to work can create challenges.

For many women, the decision to leave a career for up to a year can be a difficult one. Regardless of the policies and protections put in place by an employer, any substantial time out of the workforce can impact both skills and relationships.

Women worry that by the time they re-enter the workforce, new systems may have been implemented, new staff may have replaced those they knew, or clients and duties may have changed.

The eventual return to work is welcomed by some women, eager to return to their beloved careers or keen to break the day-to-day rituals of motherhood. For others, returning to work is simply necessary for financial reasons.

In many instances, mothers find a gradual return to work, perhaps only a few days a week or with an allocation of tasks to be completed at home, to be the best way of returning to their former job. This isn’t always possible, and often must be established before the commencement of the leave.

Of course, the circumstances for every woman returning from parental leave (also known as maternity leave) are different. Amount of leave given varies greatly from country to country, and depending on the organisation. Factors can include the age of the new mother, the time spent with the company, the number of previous children and the nature of employment.

When returning to work after parental leave, it is important to remember that neither your decision to leave work to have a baby, nor your decision to return to work are selfish ones. Statistics gathered from around the world have shown that guilt is a major source of concern and difficulty for many women attempting to return to work.

Your personal circumstances can be altered by dozens of different factors, so comparing your return to work to your friends, parents or colleagues could lead to make decisions that don’t work for you.

Remember also that employers have experience in supporting the return to work. Most companies have established processes to help ease this often-difficult reintroduction.

If you find, after childbirth, that your circumstances have changed and you no longer wish to return to your previous job, be upfront about it. The sooner your employer can make arrangements to permanently cover your position, the less put out they’ll be.

When considering the return to work, consider all your options. If the thought of returning to your old job is unbearable, perhaps you can use the opportunity to alter your career goals. Consider freelance work or a part time job at a local retail outlet to help reintroduce yourself into the workforce.

The most important thing to remember when returning to work from parental leave is that your circumstances are unique. Be sure to understand the expectations of your employer before your leave begins, but be open about your own wishes and desires.

Whether you seamlessly integrate back into your previous role or find yourself doing something new, be honest with your former or new employer. The more you inform them of your concerns and wishes, the more likely you are to find a role that will benefit all parties.

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