Going back to work after maternity or paternity leave is a nervous time for most parents. Leaving children with carers, re-establishing yourself in the workplace and getting back into the work day routine are major adjustments.
As a recruiter and parent of two young children, I’m often asked for advice on how to best manage your career around the time of parental leave. Parental leave is and should be one of the most exciting times in your life but it’s also daunting – not just personally but also professionally.
So here are my answers to a few Frequently Asked Questions I hear from professionals at this time in their life and career.
I feel nervous about who will look after my role – do you have any advice about how to deal with this?
It can be difficult to entrust your job to someone else. It’s a bit like handing your baby over to a carer. However, holding onto the reins too tightly doesn’t help anyone. You have to find someone you can trust and accept they might do things differently from you. It will be okay!
Often, you’ll be asked to join the recruitment and selection process, which gives you some influence over who fills your shoes while you’re on leave. Or, you may have a team member who can step up, which often makes for a smoother cultural transition.
For professional services marketing, communications and business development roles, I often advise Hiring Managers to have flexibility when seeking people for parental leave contracts because there is a limited pool of people immediately available for contract roles. This means you may end up with someone more senior than you (and the role), more junior, or from a slightly different industry. It’s good to understand this from the outset – we’re each unique and you’re unlikely to find ‘another you’. I believe an open-minded approach to finding the right person often leads to the best result.
It’s good to find a replacement who can manage the status quo effectively and bring new ideas, which will help you when you return.
How do I stay connected while I’m away?
I need to caveat this one by saying that you are not legally obliged to stay connected with your employer while you’re on parental leave. Staying connected is an opportunity, not a requirement.
Benefits of staying in touch are aiding a smooth transition back to (paid) work, keeping up your personal profile and understanding any key changes in the team.
Examples of ways to stay connected:
- Some businesses are very proactive in engaging employees on parental leave. One company I know of brings parental leave employees and babies in for a more intimate ‘Town Hall’ with the CEO each quarter. If you have an idea for an initiative at your firm, perhaps you can be the first to suggest it?
- One way of staying connected with the broader industry is to get together with other work colleagues, clients, industry contacts who are also on parental leave and form a professional parents group. You can help each other stay informed.
- Many people also do informal coffee catch ups with their team/colleagues. It’s a great opportunity for reading and keeping up with what’s happening in your industry.
- I’ve also seen people engage in short online courses to hone their skills.
- If you decide it’s important for your external profile, you may choose to keep your presence and interactions up on LinkedIn.
- Depending on your role, seniority and projects, there may be key meetings you’d like to offer to attend. I remember seeing a LinkedIn post from a major law firm with a photo of a Senior Associate presenting to clients with a small baby strapped to her. She was on maternity leave but had chosen to take up the opportunity to run this meeting. This may look different in how it manifests for BD, marketing and communications professionals (more internal than client focused). I’ve heard many examples of professional services marketers coming back in for key team meetings.
There’s a balance, the vast majority of your time will be taking a break from the working world to be with your family.
How should I communicate with the business about my intentions around length of parental leave, coming back and the potential for part time work?
This can be tricky because you can change your mind to extend or shorten the amount of time you will be away. That said, my best advice is to consider both the needs of the business and your own needs. (Incidentally, I give the same advice around salary reviews – start the conversation with what the business first and what you need second.)
The language you use with your manager and key stakeholders in this regard goes a long way to strengthening your personal profile. In the run up to your departure, communicate your plans and intentions clearly and in a timely way, including your longer-term career plans.
This is also important if your plan evolves while you’re away. For first time parents, you may be surprised by how you feel about your return to work and seek to lengthen or shorten the amount of time you originally intended.
How do I best reintegrate on my return?
It’s a rare gift to be able to have time and distance from your role. You’ll gain a fresh perspective and you can use this to your advantage when you’re back at your firm. It’s also a great line in the sand to think about how you work and to be intentional with how you spend your time and the way in which you operate. As parents, more than anyone, we have to work smart with our time.
Be purposeful in re-establishing your relationships again with Partners and your BD&M colleagues including any new faces at the firm.
Consider your own assumptions about your role and how you should operate – expectations and best practice may have changed in the time you were away and embracing positive change will make for a more enjoyable and successful return.
You have a fresh opportunity to focus on your personal profile and brand as you re-establish yourself again. If you’re a new parent you’ll find that you can use this new identity to your advantage sometimes for personal profile and relationship building.
I would like to make a career move, will other employers be happy to consider me when I’m on maternity leave?
The short answer is yes. It’s not uncommon. We often speak to candidates about their next career move during their parental leave as it’s a good time to reflect on where their career is going. Sometimes people have stayed in a role for longer than they might usually have intended (knowing the parental leave is coming up). Other times, the time away from work had made them realise they are just ready for a change.
Factors to consider are:
- Whether you have a clawback in your contract on your parental leave benefit if you leave within a certain period (in my experience becoming less common in our industry).
- What your current firm is offering in terms of part time and flexible work and how it compares to what you could get in moving to another firm. My advice is that if you’re seeking four or five days and/or flexible working arrangements then we can work with you on many roles that come to market. If you’re seeking less than four days, you’re by far most likely to get this at your current firm. It’s rare for these to come to market.
- The first six months of any new role is quite intense – you’ll want to ensure you’ve got your childcare arrangements fully locked in and your support network in place. That said, this is likely no different to your first six months back regardless!
As always, everyone’s situation is nuanced and so we are happy to give advice relevant to your situation. If you’re returning from parental leave and want some career advice, contact me at [email protected] or call +61 424 944 997.
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