Returning to work after a Parental Break
You’ve agreed your return date and working hours and you’ve sorted out your childcare – now you need to give some thought to how you will make the most of your return to work.
It is really important that you return to work with some realistic ideas about what you hope to achieve in your first three months in the role. By having clear goals you will find it easier to focus your energy on those aspects of your working life which will have the biggest positive impact for you and your employer. The biggest pitfalls for working parents occur when they become caught up in the need to prove themselves (to their employer or colleagues) or to please everyone (at home and at work) which can quickly lead to exhaustion and resentment. A realistic assessment of what is possible to achieve can help to minimise the risk of falling into these traps.
There are four areas in which I recommend you concentrate your thinking:
- Achievement (your tangible measurable impact)
- Relationships (identifying key people and starting to build connections with them)
- Brand (what values do you want to be known for)
- Ways of working (establishing your boundaries)
Think about the tangible and measurable business requirements that you will be working on in your first three months. Through discussions with your manager and perhaps your prior experience of the role you should have a clear idea of what the organisation expects of you. You will need to shape these expectations into specific and tangible outcomes that will demonstrate your competence to your colleagues and in doing so will help you to build your confidence and credibility in your role.
Very early on, you will need to check your view of what goals are important with your manager’s expectations, to ensure that you are aligned with each other. You will also want to identify some opportunities for quick results that will enhance your reputation as someone who delivers.
As a working parent, you won’t necessarily have as much time for social interaction with your colleagues as you might wish, so it is important to identify those people with whom it is essential to build rapport and concentrate your time and energy on these relationships.
If you are returning to your old role following a parental leave, you may already have a network in place which will be a great support to you. You will also need to add in new connections as you identify them. If you are new to the organisation or team, you may need some guidance from your line manager on the key people for you to meet and connect with early on.
You will need to be smarter about how you start to build these relationships too, as you may no longer be able to stay late after work as much as you used to. Being new, or recently returned, gives you a perfect excuse to introduce yourself to people and to ask for their advice and their views on your priorities (even if you don’t agree with them!).
Having a break from the workplace can give you the space to reflect on your values and priorities and you can return to work feeling much clearer about how you wish to be known in the workplace.
If you are clear on your values, consider how you can bring these to life in your new role. (If you are less clear, it is worth putting some thought into this essential area for your success.) How can you demonstrate your brand as you work towards achieving the goals you have set and start building new relationships? What will your priorities be? And just as importantly, what will you let go of?
Ways of Working
Starting a new role is an ideal time to establish sustainable working patterns. By thinking through in advance how you wish to work you can protect yourself from being drawn into the need to prove yourself or to please everyone mentioned at the start.
Ways of working includes considering the following questions:
- Will stay you late or get in early and, if so, how often?
- Will you take work home with you and, if so, how often?
And if you are not working full-time:
- Are you prepared and able to come into the office during your time off?
- Will you look at your work email during your time off?
- Will you answer your work phone during your time off?
Everyone will have a different view of their personal boundaries, but it is important to define what yours are and stick to them. If you don’t you may quickly find yourself becoming resentful of your employer.
Finally, the key to making your return to work a success for you, your employer and your family is to make sure that you keep time for yourself to recharge your batteries. Not only will you feel better for it, but you will have more energy for your work and your family if you can allow yourself the time that you need.