Mothers returning to work

Coming back to work after a long break isn’t as tough as you think it is

New mothers returning to work after their maternity leave, often struggle to find their footing at the workplace and function as efficiently as they used to. This also affects employees who have been on extended leave or sabbaticals.

Some of the common concerns that employees have as they get back to work after a long break are:

  • Will I have the same job role as I did before?
  • Will I be able to cope with the hectic work environment?
  • Did any significant changes occur while I was away?
  • Will I be able to become productive right away?

New mothers may also worry about their babies and miss being with them. A recent Daily Mail article reported that it takes new mothers typically four months to get their confidence back and readjust to work after their maternity leave.

If you have been on an extended break, and are anxious about getting back to work, it will help to know that ‘back to work’ jitters are more common than you think. Even as new mothers and employees on sabbaticals are thrilled to resume work, everyone faces periods of adjustment.

Here are some suggestions that will help you ease your way back to work.

Stay in touch with your colleagues

To help alleviate your job-related anxieties, one of the best things that you can do is to simply stay in touch with your line manager and colleagues while you’re away. With all the social networking opportunities that are available now, this is easier than ever. Share your experiences with them and also check with them about happenings at the workplace. If you stay in the vicinity of your office, you may even meet up with your colleagues for lunch once in a while. This simple act of staying in touch can go a long way in making you feel less isolated and more prepared to jump into work.

Contact your manager

If you have been in touch with your manager, this will be easy. Remind your manager about your date of resuming at least a week in advance. A phone call on the previous day will also help. Ideally, you should have a one-to-one meeting with the manager on your first day of joining back and use this meeting to learn about everything that happened while you were away. It’s better you hear the latest developments at work from him/her—this will also convey to your manager your enthusiasm to be back.

Reset your internal clock and practise your daily routine

While holidaying or staying at home, you may tend to slack back on your typical wake/sleep regimen. At least two weeks before your leave ends, start following the routine you would follow during the normal work day. Get up early, eat on time, and sleep at a reasonable hour. This will help your body acclimatise to the routine that you would have to follow as you start working. If you’re a new mom, you may also want to involve your husband and practise a few dry runs of your new morning schedule.

Groom yourself

When you look great, you feel great. Present yourself as a no-nonsense, well-groomed professional, and you will feel like one. Get a haircut, buy a new outfit, or even get a manicure and pedicure if it helps. Make a decision to celebrate your first day back at work and you will find yourself actually looking forward to it.

Seek redress if needed

Usually, you would be returning to the same position and on the same terms as those before your leave, unless there have been some significant changes in the company during your absence. Ideally, you should have a written confirmation from your employer about the authorised leave dates, the return to work date, and the job role that you will be returning to. Your HR department will be able to guide you about the company’s return policy. If all goes well, you will soon get back into the rhythm of things. But if you feel that you haven’t been treated fairly, don’t hesitate to seek redress through the appropriate channels.

Brush up on your technology skills

This may seem like a silly idea, but it is very relevant in today’s workplace. A few months of not using the usual productivity tools such as MS Office may cause your skills to get rusty. Brush up on your day-to-day productivity programmes. If you have to use any specific software in your job, for example AutoCAD and 3D Max for interior designers, you may need to check up on the latest versions and the new features. Those who are in administrative positions should be up to date with the latest versions of Tally or other administrative software. Renew your professional membership and licenses if required.

Show that you are as committed as before

Not all colleagues may react the same way when you return to work. You will find that some of them are supportive and encouraging, while others are not. Some may even feel jealous that you had some time off while they slogged at work. Remind yourself that these are natural human reactions. Make an effort to build a rapport and ease into a neutral or friendly space. Try not to take extended lunch breaks; it is important to convey that you’re really committed to your work and that you’re out of the holiday mood. Be honest and genuine in your communication with your colleagues—they will often help you in your transition if you ask them nicely.

Make trade-offs if necessary

If you have been away from work for a very long time, it is not uncommon to take a cut in pay and position. According to a 2004 study by the Centre for Work-Life Policy in New York, skilled women who take a leave of absence for three or more years earn an average of 37 per cent less when they return to work. If financial and status trade-offs are necessary for some extra flexibility to manage your work-life balance, consider them by all means.

It is not necessary that you get back to a full-time job right after your maternity leave or sabbatical. You may consider getting a part-time, freelance, or work-from-home job before going back to normal working hours.

Whether you have been on a maternity leave or sabbatical, it is only natural to feel anxious about coming back to work. Follow these tips and make your comeback smooth and successful.

This was first published in the January 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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