Juggling kids and work is a tough ask for all parents at the best of times. But the pressure and uncertainty on returning from maternity leave is well known yet still not always well managed. Why are we still not better at this stuff?
by an anonymous guest blogger
I love my job. I just want to make that very clear. I like the organisation I work for. My team is full of decent people who actually care about the work they’re doing and are constantly looking at ways to improve or shake things up. The work I do has an element of fun in it. And the job pays well. All in all, it’s a very decent set-up.
So why am I nervous about returning to work?
I’ve been on maternity leave for nearly a year with my second child. The first time around I had truly switched off from work (a no-no I learnt through hindsight). This time, however, I’ve kept up with emails, had regular catch-ups with my manager and carried out some keep-in-touch days. Heck, I’ve even had phone conversations with my maternity cover to help guide them through difficult moments at work.
As I get closer to the end of my leave. I’ve started to reflect on things that will help achieve work/life balance. Honestly speaking, my priorities have changed since I first took this job. Naturally I’m thinking about what will work for my employer, my kids and most importantly, me. Working from home, maybe. Starting later or finishing earlier, maybe. Going part time, maybe. Working term time only, maybe. There are so many possibilities – all have their pros and cons. Possibilities that seem to make sense one minute and seem like nonsense the next.
Deep down, I know I shouldn’t be thinking about this. Especially not at 12.30am, hours after the kids have gone to sleep. And also because I’ve still got over 2 months of leave left to enjoy, but I just can’t shake the thoughts.
You see, I’m quite an open person. My relationship with my line manager had always been open too. And given that she’d only recently returned from maternity leave and is still trialling various working patterns to get the balance right, I used our catch-ups to share what I’d been thinking. There’s something about change people don’t like though and whatever I’ve said must have triggered something or another which is why I’ve now been asked to finalise my working pattern for when I return – around 2-3 months before I return.
Conversations between us have now gone cold. Very process driven – our last catch-up lacked simple friendly exchanges. She may be stressed about other things, I tell myself, but at the same time I know it’s not an excuse for how uneasy this has made me feel.
Returning to work after nearly a year off is daunting enough, but having given the impression that you may not get the support you need or that the you’re letting people down because you’re requesting a change; it knocks your own confidence quite a bit. Is there any surprise that in a survey carried out last year by MMB magazine of more than 1,000 women – 72% of whom worked at management level or above – less than a fifth (18%) felt happy and confident about returning to work. More than a third (37%) felt so unsupported and isolated when they returned to work that they wanted to quit. And only 18% felt happy and confident about work.
We talk about women in senior roles, increasing visibility of women at events and panels, about what women can do to get a seat at the table in boardrooms. But when The Equality and Human Rights Commissions reports that in 2018 77% of mothers had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy and/or maternity leave, how can we possibly expect women to return to work and achieve these things?
If we can’t support women through one of the more difficult phases of their life, what hope do we have of drastically changing these stats? When 60% of the women surveyed by MMB were worried their requests for flexible working would be rejected, what can we as managers do to ensure that we don’t lose the talent we have?
Believe it or not – if you’ve got someone that’s returning to work after mat leave, who gets the kids fed and ready and to school and/or childcare in the morning AND starts work on time and still performs well and smashes it at work, regardless of whether they’re working from home or in the office – that’s the talent you want to nurture and grow.
Image via Derek Midgley