The return-to-work transition from maternity leave can be a stressful one. Adjusting to a new routine of drop-offs at childcare, commuting, settling back into a work environment and the emotional strain of spending time away from their children are all challenges parents may face. As a career development practitioner (CDP), it is important to be aware of the different ways you can support a client during this transition.
The stress around returning to work for mothers has been well documented. A recent survey of over 1,000 women found that less than one-fifth of respondents felt confident returning to work after having a baby. The same survey found that 60% were worried about their requests for flexible work being rejected and 37% felt so unsupported and isolated upon their return, they considered quitting.
Career practitioners know that providing support to individuals during times of transition can have lasting impact; the return-to-work transition after maternity leave is no exception.
In my practice, I work almost exclusively with working mothers. Here are some of my top tips for supporting them during the transition out of maternity leave.
Shifting priorities – The single biggest discussion point I have with clients is the unexpected change in career priorities. The shift is entirely different for each person and can range from wanting to return to work early from maternity leave, to wanting to extend leave to focus on their family, to considering stopping work all together, to feeling a strong urge to reconnect with their career. It is important to dedicate time to talking about and understanding these priorities with your client.
Talk about the emotions – Most individuals have strong emotions about their career, ranging from excitement to distress. For mothers returning to work from maternity leave, their emotions can be multifaceted and can involve guilt around leaving their children, strong desire for more time with their family or a newfound passion for making an impact on the world, for instance. Whatever the emotions are, it is important to recognize the driving force behind them. I have clients write down their emotions around work and family so as we move through the process, we can circle back to how their feelings are affecting their career decisions.
Bring in other supports – Becoming a parent often brings unexpected new stressors. As CPDs, we are here to support our clients and their career goals, but if other issues are taking up time and energy, it is important to be able to provide resources or supports to help them. I have a list of providers and organizations (life coaches, social workers, parenting coaches, support groups, etc.) that I can refer clients to when necessary.
Work through the life and work conversation – New parents often feel they have fewer choices. Having someone else who depends on you – and your job! – can make it feel harder to make big changes in your career (although this is also the time when many people talk about feeling like they need to do more or make an impact). Talking about career change with new parents cannot be held in isolation from the rest of their life – the two are so intertwined now that it can be hugely beneficial to ask these questions:
- What do you need your job to provide for you?
- As we look at new roles or directions – what things are non-negotiable? This might include long commutes, travel, a lot of overtime or shift work. Each person is unique, so these are just examples, but flexibility and work-from-home may be desirable to new working parents.
Leave space for reflection – At the end of each session, I leave five minutes for reflection. This is a time to reflect on our session and things that surprised them, left them wanting more information or resources or created more questions.
The transition from maternity leave back to work is a critical time for women in their career. How they are treated, supported and encouraged will help shape their future within the company they are returning to or the next company they move on to. By recognizing the importance this transition plays in ensuring a strong female talent pipeline, both CPDs and employers can make all the difference in helping make the step back into work a positive one.
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