It’s never easy to return to work after a break and settle down to do what you were doing before. It becomes even more difficult after paternity or maternity leave. My own experience taught me that there are lots of challenges when coming back to work, from re-establishing yourself within the team and with your stakeholders (whoever they are) to being up to date with the latest news in your profession and feeling confident that you can keep everything going.
Being on a career break for a while has an impact on our confidence and that impact is even bigger for various reasons for those who become mums.
When I came back from my first maternity leave I wanted to get back in control immediately, to show that I was perfectly capable of managing a full-time job and an 8-month-old baby, a teenage stepson, commuting, housework, etc. I was expecting a lot of myself, which I have always done, but even more than usual at that point. I did somehow manage at the time, but I was under quite a lot of stress and always in a rush. Coming back from my second maternity leave I was much calmer. I knew that my professional skills had not been diminished by my being a mum and that if anyone doubted this the problem was theirs not mine.
During both maternity leaves I did some form of education and during the second maternity leave I took a coaching and mentoring qualification which helped me a lot with the way I approached my return to work. That also gave me the idea of creating the Return to Work Network at my workplace, the Post Office.
The Return to Work Network aims to support all returnees to work after they have a career break through coaching and mentoring support. We partly want to create the space and time for people to be able to talk about how they feel and the challenges they face without the fear that they might be seen as weak or judged. Our aim is to free those resources within each of us which might be locked due to our limiting beliefs or fears and to increase people’s sense of self confidence.
We have also discovered that we can influence the internal processes at work and make them better the returnees and their managers. In addition it is our mission to raise awareness of the challenges that a returnee can encounter.
One of the challenges we have come across is that people do not always have the courage to ask for support when they need it. Raising awareness and keeping the conversation going as well as embedding diversity and inclusion (whatever that means for individual members of staff) in the company’s culture helps to shift perceptions.
Our RTW network is in its first stages. It is new and like a baby who grows, learns and develops every day.
I will leave you with some observations on what I have learnt from my experience as a returnee to work, which are not in any way new discoveries for humanity but were for me until last year:
*Elena Nistor-Lustermans is an internal audit manager IT at Post Office Limited.