Back to work with some practical support

This week is Return to Work Week. It will give you practical support and, despite everyone’s circumstances being different, it will show that you are not alone.

Sign saying back to work


This week is’s first Return to Work Week, with information and advice on everything related to getting back to work after a career break or transitioning to another sector or setting up your own business – or doing all three at the same time, something I’ve certainly tried in order to get flexibility and earn enough to get by.

Going back to work after a break of any kind, be it maternity leave, sick leave or several years off for family or caring reasons, is often not easy. If you’ve been doing something completely different, such as looking after a small person, it may seem like an age ago that you were doing your old job or anything remotely like it. Often people worry, particularly these days, that work will have changed out of all recognition, that the programmes you rely on will all be new and you won’t be able to keep up, that your head is not in the right space as it grapples with the new logistics of being a working mum…Even if you are keen to get back to work, there can be conflicting emotions. Your head can be an emotional whirlpool. In fact, I’m not even sure now, over 23 years since my first daughter was born, that I have had the time to get out of the whirlpool. Maybe you just get used to being in it.

I remember the first week back at work after my first daughter was born. I’d taken around five months of maternity leave – until the money ran out [and I’d been doing freelance work during maternity leave while she was sleeping to pay the bills]. I’d switched jobs to work nearer to home and was in a brand new company, which made things a bit easier because everyone else was new, but it was in a fast-moving field and I was a manager. I had to get up to speed fast. It was also in education reporting, whereas before maternity leave I had been in health. Although it was full time, I had one day working from home – unusual in those days. I was the main earner and my partner worked shifts so he often had days off during the week because he regularly worked weekends. Our daughter went to nursery three days a week.

The first week back is etched in my memory. Leaving her and hearing her crying as I walked out was very hard. And no matter how much we had thought through the parking, commuting and other logistics the reality of it was much more difficult. I felt I was battling the clock – indeed most of my life post-children seems to have been against the clock. For the first week – when there was a heatwave –  my daughter didn’t drink anything at nursery. It is safe to say that she was not a fan of formula milk and try as I might in the weeks leading up to my return she wouldn’t usually have much. That meant she was up most of the night breastfeeding. Eventually we found some strawberry-flavoured Boots formula that she would take, but some weeks the local Boots ran out of the stuff and you couldn’t order things online back then so we spent ages on a trek around Boots stores in the area. All in all it was not a smooth return on the home front. But at work things went a bit better because, despite the break, I kind of knew what I was doing there, even if I’d been doing something entirely different for the last months. My boss, also a mum, was very supportive too. The people I worked with were nice. It was good to get out of the house and eat lunch with both hands. Gradually, fairly quickly even, we got into a rhythm.

Every mum going back to work will have a different story and different circumstances, but it’s a lot to cope with. Which is why, if you have an employer and, crucially, line managers who are flexible and supportive it makes all the difference. Seek them out if you haven’t got that. I’ve worked for a manager who wasn’t supportive and my advice to me back then is to leave, leave, leave as fast as you can, if you can. And if you are changing employers, do your research well beforehand.

We hope that our Return to Work Week will give you the information, practical advice and personal stories that help to make your return easier and that you feel that there are many people who are going through and have been through the emotions and logistics that you are facing – not in the same way, maybe, but similar. We wish you every success – whatever success means to you [it took me a long time to work that one out!].

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