Media article published by Marketing Mag on January
Plenty of people like to keep their work and personal lives
Although technology has changed the way we work forever, incubating babies and child rearing have stayed pretty much the same – meaning that new mothers still need time out of the workforce as they adapt to the demands of parenting.
Parental leave conditions continue to evolve in workplaces, but it’s daunting for any new parent to return to work – be it after a few months or a year – especially when they’ve been focused on the birth and care of their newborn.
Recently I returned to my role on a part-time basis after four months’ maternity leave. I went from spending most of my time totally focused on my baby to being back in my fast-paced job and team.
I had a few thoughts about returning to work. What if my team didn’t need me to manage them? How would I ease back into being their manager? And how would I manage my full workload in half the time? It’s a tough adjustment to make. Although in my first month away, I was still mentally very much in the workplace; as time moved on I was more focused on all the demands that come with being a first-time parent.
The company I work for is a startup where many people have young families. In fact, there are 20 children across a workforce of just slightly more than 40, and the executive team of four have a total of 10 children between them.
We have a good work/life balance culture, but being such a young company, we didn’t have much of a unique parental leave policy. As the only female member of the executive team, I was also the first to take maternity leave. So, I became a bit of a test case. Through my experience, we could create the workplace we wanted; especially in terms of providing workplace flexibility.
In Australia, the government maternity leave entitlements include up to 10 paid ‘keeping in touch’ days, which can be used for strategy sessions, conferences and training to help stay up-to-date with the workplace. I utilised these days to their full extent, which kept me in the loop just enough to make my transition back into the workforce easier.
When my son, Harvey, was just four weeks old, an opportunity arose to host the company’s quarterly strategy session at my home and in my sleep-deprived state I thought ‘why not?’ and jumped at it. Looking back, participating in this strategy session set the foundations for a smooth return to work.
As I’ve taken time to look back on my maternity leave and transition back into the workplace, these are the top three things I learned:
A lack of free time has allowed me to become more efficient, while simultaneously honing my decision-making skills. I’m more appreciative and aware of time now; I feel I have little time to waste and have to get on with things. With Harvey to care for, no longer do I have the luxury of coming in to work early or staying back just a little longer to finish a task, every minute at the office has to count.
I have always been quite confident and worked on building this skill throughout my career, but nothing did more for my confidence in the workplace than four months of motherhood. I have become much stronger in my communication style, a more confident member of the executive team and a stronger leader for my team.
Nothing is as dramatic as trying to settle a baby at three in the morning, when you have no idea what you’re doing and then having to do it all over again two hours later. Now, when I’m up against a campaign deadline or sitting at an empty conference booth because our delivery of marketing materials didn’t arrive in time, I have a completely different perspective. With a hot coffee and two free hands, there is always a solution.
When it comes to parenthood and returning to the workforce, everyone is unique and it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. I’m now two months into my new working-mum status and still striving to get the balance right. I’m fortunate to work somewhere where I was, and am, supported; and I encourage other employers to listen to their employees when formulating and revisiting maternity and parental leave policies.
It’s also important for employees to realise that coming back to work after time away can bring a fresh perspective. The notion of bringing your whole self to work may sound like a cliché, but lessons learned from a big life change like having a child can have a positive impact on your self-confidence at work.