You’ve welcomed your new baby. Spent your parental leave getting to know your bundle of joy and learning the new role of parent. Now it’s time to return to work. Do you look forward to this transition with joy and optimism; or anticipate it with fear and anxiety? Both are normal reactions, and neither is indicative of how your return to work will actually go.
Parents aren’t the only ones concerned. According to a 2017 report by Ovia Health, 34 percent of women didn’t return to their jobs after having a child. Earlier this year, New York University published research finding nearly half of new mothers and one-quarter of new fathers leave full-time STEM jobs after having children. Happily, with the tight labor market, companies wanting to retain their talent are motivated to ensure a positive return to work for new parents.
Tips for the Parents
Sleepless nights, unpredictable morning routines, pumping milk, a work wardrobe that no longer fits the same, oh – and your heart now living outside of your body. It’s a lot. Plan, plan, plan — and be prepared for the unexpected. It goes without saying finding childcare is critical. Following are some tips for self-care, too.
- Plan and Prepare Meals – Remember how hard it was to plan and prep meals when baby first came home? This transition will be similar.
- Practice – Do a dry run (or two) of your new morning routine. Set your alarm, get yourself and your baby ready, then actually make the drive. This allows for making adjustments before the big day arrives. (Hint: you’ll most likely need to get up earlier than anticipated and do prep work the night before.)
- Get Pumping – Do yourself and your baby a favor and start pumping and freezing weeks ahead of your return. As new mother Diana Mathews, Designer at Flourish Spaces, tells Parentology, “I wish I’d had more milk stored up… I wasn’t prepared for production to drop so drastically and quickly.”
- Plan Rewards – Schedule a lunch out with co-workers, pick up your favorite coffee or indulge in a massage.
- Be Open – You’re now balancing two jobs. Just as it’s taken time to learn the parent role, learning to juggle career and parenthood take time.
Tips for Employers
One of the biggest components of ensuring a positive return to work for new parents is viewing the transition as a process starting before parental leave ends and extends beyond the first few weeks back.
- Stay Connected – Check-in during the parental leave to see how things are going and address any concerns the new parent may have about returning to work. The intent is to stay connected; not to make them feel they need to do work or hasten their return.
- Plan the Return – It’s a good idea to meet with the employee (perhaps over coffee) away from the office the week before their planned return. Share any changes that occurred during their absence (office moves, new clients/projects, etc.), answer questions and review the transition plan.
- Structured (but not too structured) Re-entry – Allow the employee some flexibility when they return — perhaps have them start back on a Wednesday or Thursday. If possible, a few half-days followed by a week of partial days will allow the employee to adjust to their new routines. The flexibility of working from home on occasion can also go a long way. Mathews states, “I wish I’d eased back into working a little slower. I only work four days a week now and that’s helped.”
- Support Pumping – A comfortable and private location for pumping is key. This could be as easy as adding a lock to a private
office,or allowing the use of a quiet conference room with a lock.
In a Nutshell
Regardless of whether you’re the parent or employer, the most important thing for making a return to work a positive experience is being gentle. Flexibility and open communication will go a long way.
*Jennifer Perrow is the founder of JRP Leadership Coaching, which helps business owners and their management teams eliminate overwhelm, manage priorities and create the infrastructure to achieve their goals.
Parental Leave Return to Work: Tips for Parents and Employers — Sources
Diana Mathews, Evelyn’s Mom, Designer at Flourish Spaces
Fast Company: Three Things New Parents Need to Return to Work Successfully
Happy You, Happy Family: 9 Secrets for a Successful Return to Work
Life As a Vroom: 7 Ways to Return to Work
Broad Perspective Counseling: Your 4th Trimester
Motherhood in America: 2017 Report
PNAS: The Changing Career Trajectories of Parents in STEM