Returning to work after maternity leave – how to make a ‘mum back’

One in five (22%) employers admit that working mums face tougher career challenges than their colleagues without children, according to a recent report by YouGov.

One in ten (12%) of the 800 UK HR professionals surveyed also said they took women less seriously after they returned from maternity leave.

Dr Caroline Udall, founder of Leadership of Mums coaching consultancy, says new mums usually face a number of issues when they want to return to work. “Logistics, childcare, options around flexible working and enthusiasm for a role that may have changed will all be important considerations,” she notes. “They will probably be struggling with a number of questions too, such as: How will my job have changed since I’ve been away? What if my cover has done a better job than me? What the hell will I wear?!”

So how can new mums get their confidence back and try and ensure their return to work goes as smoothly as possible?

Plan your return

Women on maternity leave can have up to ten Keeping in Touch (KIT) days during the time they are off and should, says Camilla Butterworth, head of HR & training at Fuel PR, use these to help them feel in control and prepared. “Organise a full de-brief with your boss and team to get up to date with what has been going on in the office during your absence,” she says. “Also, try and attend a few work meetings and re-introduce yourself to clients.”

Write a list

After losing yourself in nappies and night feeds, it might be difficult to remember who you were before you became a mum. Writing a list should, says Dr Udall, help concentrate your mind and clarify things.

“Write a list for the following; 1. what you’re good at, 2. what you love to do, 3. the reasons why you’re going back to work, 4. what you will bring to the role, 5. how you will make it happen and 6. who is going to help you make this happen.”

Stick this list where you will see it and read through it regularly, Udall advises. “Quite quickly these ‘affirmations’ will shift your brain into a positive mode and you will find yourself getting excited and more confident about going back to work.”

Update your wardrobe

Any mother who has ever embraced the elastic waistband will know it’s very hard to go back. “You are likely to have been in maternity clothes for at least a year by now,” says Butterworth. “Go out and buy a few new trendy workwear outfits which make you feel good and which can also be worn on the weekends.  Not only will this be cost-effective, those new key outfit pieces will also boost your confidence.”

22% of employers admit that working mums face tougher career challenges

Be prepared to ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support. “It always helps to have a supportive team that you can rely on, especially if you work part-time,” says Butterworth. “Write small handover notes to colleagues to keep in touch with them during your days off, so they are also up to date with your work commitments.”

Remember that it’s normal to feel different

If you were a perfectionist before having children, and you are now juggling work, parenthood and the general demands of life, it might be time to let go of the super high-standards you impose on yourself and let good enough be good enough. “Dropping your super-high standards will allow you to do your best in every situation and to let that be enough,” says Emerson.

Think about the transferrable skills you’ve learned

Becoming a mother opens up a whole new world and a whole range of skills you probably never knew you had. Multi-tasking, organisation and supreme negotiation skills, to name but a few. Think about everything you have learned and mastered and the fact that you will be returning to work with a whole host of new talents.

Remember that done is better than perfect

If you were a perfectionist before having children, and you are now juggling work, parenthood and the general demands of life, it might be time to let go of the super high-standards you impose on yourself and let good enough be good enough. “Dropping your super-high standards will allow you to do your best in every situation and to let that be enough,” says Emerson.

Learn to say no

“This applies in all aspects of life but learning to say no in the workplace and/or how to delegate will stand you in good stead when you return from maternity leave or a career break,” says Emerson.

Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.

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