Return to work without hassle
Returning to work after having a baby is like entering a parallel career universe. Whether you previously worked in the same office for 10 years or 10 months, it's likely those early days back at work will mean you spend an inordinate amount of time fretting about your baby's wellbeing and worrying that you aren't the great worker you were able to be before you had children.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Going back to work, you get to reclaim your identity beyond being a mum and get to finish a cup of coffee before it goes cold! Here are some ways to negotiate the minefield of returning to paid work after having maternity leave.
Return to work tip: Have a chat with your boss
Karen Bijkersma, author of Best Ever Baby Tips, suggests that well before you return to your previous job, set up a meeting with your boss to talk about what you will be doing when you return, and to catch up on any important information. Start having any important memos sent to you at home, and contact your union or workplace rep to find out what rights you have when negotiating your return to work.
Return to work tip: Check on possible paternity leave
Some New Zealand employers allow fathers paid parental leave if their wife or partner returns to work before the baby is 12 months old. My brother’s employer is one such place – when his wife went back to full-time work when their second child was seven months old, he looked after the baby and their two-year-old for six weeks. Six paid weeks. He says he adored those weeks spent caring for his boys solo and is forever grateful he knew about and utilised his entitlements.
Return to work tip: Expect some changes to priorities
Everything changes when your priorities change, and now you have a living, breathing new priority who will be much more demanding than even the most high-maintenance workplace boss.
If you’re returning full-time, Bijkersma advises trying to negotiate some flexibility such as starting on half-days for a few weeks, working a nine-day fortnight or working partly from home. Can you job-share for a few months until you’re ready to take the full-time plunge? Remember that if you don’t ask, the answer is ‘no’.
Return to work tip: Think outside the square
“Full-time, 9am to 5pm work is not the only option for mums who want or need to go back to work,” writes mum-of-two Christie Nicholas in The Mum Who Roared: A Complete A-Z Guide To Loving Your Mind, Body And Attitude After Baby (Exisle Publishing, $29.99).
There is casual, part-time, shift and contract work. People can work from home, job-share or freelance. And there’s also self-employment to consider. There are many helpful employment resources that actually target mothers wanting to return to work and provide greater information on the different work options available and how they can better suit your new lifestyle.
Return to work tip: Update your skills and your CV
If you have taken a couple of years off paid work post-baby and are now looking to re-enter the workforce, it’s essential to update your CV and to, if possible, have some new skills or studies to add to it.
Consider undertaking a correspondence course or take a few units at a time, with the option to graduate with a complete qualification from organsisations who offer online access to higher education. It’s the ideal way to get ahead while your baby is young and (hopefully) taking naps during the day. Mum-of-two Kellie suggests: “If something interests you, go and try a short course first if you're unsure and then get cracking on your course of choice no matter how old you feel now - you will always look back and wish you had started earlier. Also doing some work experience in your field can open doors and lead to a job later.
Return to work tip: Make sure you're really ready
Unless it’s a financial necessity, consider delaying your return to work until you feel truly ready. Few mothers lament the time spent with their young children, but most regret going back when they’re still three or six months old. As Susan, a 40-year-old scriptwriter and mum of one from Melbourne, says: “In the first six months I often worried that my career was over. I work in a fickle industry where you're only as good as your last job, so I really feared I would be forgotten and that the calls to work would never come again, especially if I said no to jobs on offer immediately after my daughter was born. This made me return to work when she was three months old, which was, in retrospect, too early.
"However, after it also affected my milk supply, my time with baby and my general happiness I learned to be more upfront with employers. I now state very plainly in advance what I need to make the job work for me before accepting. Thankfully, most employers are really understanding and accommodating so I’ve been lucky. But my number one tip is: You won't become redundant or instantly forgotten when you have a baby, so wait until the time is right for you before returning. The work will be there and chances are you'll be welcomed back with open arms when you are ready and on your new terms!”
This article was written by Karen Fontaine for Kidspot, in conjunction with Open Universities Australia, the leader in online learning.