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As September gets under way, times are a changing for many – children across the country are heading off to school or nursery for the first time and that brings change for parents too. It’s a nervous time for all and the focus is on building the child’s confidence to prepare them for this scary but exciting new stage of their life and as parents we all try to pretend we’re not remotely stressed or emotional about it ourselves! I’ve been there, I know the rollercoaster many parents are currently going through.
But what about advice for parents? In many cases, it’s a time of new beginnings for them too. Having spent time away from work raising their children, it may be time to say goodbye to maternity leave or career breaks and hello to employment.
This is exactly what mum of one Amy Downes is about to do. Mum to Harry, Amy has been away from the office for 18 months, but is about to embark on a new phase of her life as a working parent. I’ve spoken to her about her fears and how she is preparing for her return to employment and hope my advice to her will benefit many others too.
Claire Lister: What do you think is most concerning you about returning to work?
Amy: When I started maternity I felt like I’d stepped off a train to be with Harry, but that the rest of the world had stayed on the train and carried on their journey. It’s left me feeling like I’m going to have quite a lot of catching up to do.
Feeling ‘left behind’ has affected my confidence too: I’ve needed a lot of reassurance. I am concerned that it will affect the way potential employers see me, so it’s time to find a way to overcome that now.
CL: One good way to build confidence is to re-train and update some of your skills. Have you considered this?
Amy: Oh yes, definitely. On the day I finished work, I wrote a list of the things I wanted to do. Rather naively, I thought I would have time to do all sorts on my maternity leave! On that list were a few courses I thought would benefit me – including a shorthand course. I think doing those courses also helps you get out into a mindset where you are ready to learn and grow and it also looks great on the CV – I can show that I have been thinking about how I want to develop my career.
CL: Courses like that can also offer you a chance to change career completely, and returning after maternity can often be the time people make a change.
Amy: Yes, absolutely and that’s something I am going to be doing myself. This time away from my old job has given me a chance to focus on a new direction. The big change for me is that I aim to work on a freelance basis so that I can hopefully achieve a good balance between doing a career I love and spending time with my son.
One thing I definitely want to do is find some courses that will help me with that, perhaps about being self-employed or to do with social media.
CL: Your little boy is starting nursery at the same time that you go back to work. How has that helped you prepare?
Amy: Harry is going to a lovely nursery and I’m lucky he seems to be settling in well. We have had three hour- long sessions for him to get used to being there.
It’s funny when you think about it, because those settling in days are just like KIT days for mums – they help you adapt. I would definitely encourage other mums to speak to your employer about these and take advantage of the policy that they have on offer.
Harry’s also had the chance to meet his key worker and the babies he will be with every day – something else I think it’s important for mums to do before returning to work – get in the circle and network.
CL: Where have you found support?
Amy: As a social media obsessive it seems natural that the best support networks I have found have definitely been online. Fellow mums in a Facebook group have been really honest about their nerves over returning to work and they’ve been giving some great advice to the rest of us.
Amy has done a good amount of preparing for her return to the workplace. If you’re still a bit anxious here are a few other tips: –
Plan your career path – One of the things that causes stress is the unknown and a feeling of being out of control. Just because you’ve been out of the workplace doesn’t mean you can’t control your future direction. We see so many people simply ‘slot’ back in and get through the day in a job they don’t particularly like or don’t feel valued in. If you’re returning to work, make it count. Know yourself ad what you want to achieve. If you’re looking for progression make this clear to your manager that you are now on a path that you are excited to follow and you’ll be working for continual professional development. Outline courses or new skills you’d like to acquire over the next three-six months and ask for their support with training. If you simply want to get on with the job in hand, there’s no shame in that, but see what opportunities arise – and if you want them grab them. Don’t for a second think you don’t deserve them.
Find a mentor – When you’ve been out of the workplace one risk is that you lose confidence, you feel you’re not worthy, you lose direction. It’s time to get inspired again. By working with a mentor, officially or unofficially, it’s great to be surrounded by positive people on a mission. Find someone who really impresses you and see if they’d be happy to support you – this could be through structured coaching or it could just be a coffee once a month, but without a doubt you’ll find new life, ambition and energy from this exercise.
Negotiate flexible working – it is totally acceptable to ask your employer for flexible working options – whether or not they routinely offer it. Beware, though, that with this topic comes a lot of politics, so you will have to play the game. Make sure your work is visible, commit to being at important meetings and on days where you work shorter hours or work from home make them the most productive – this way you’ll also quell your own ‘mum guilt’ at the same time as putting colleagues minds at ease.
Productivity – Work smarter not harder – going back to work armed with a few productivity tricks will make you feel more in control. Become the master of Skype meetings to cut down on travel time and explore project management systems to help you track workload.
Learn a few Microsoft hacks – for example, did you know:
Returning to work after maternity or a prolonged period out of the workplace can feel daunting, but it’s also exhilarating, rewarding and a chance to drink a hot cup of coffee! Remember it’s a chance to change direction if you want, you are in control, so make it count.
*Claire Lister is Managing Director of Pitman Training, which offers a range of training courses, from secretarial to web design.