How to negotiate flexible working after maternity leave

If you’ve been off for up to a year caring for your little one, chances are that bar the odd conference call, frantically scrolling through your emails or keeping in touch days, you’ve been reasonably detached from your place of work.

It’s an obvious challenge for anyone going back to work after such a long time away, especially if you’re returning to a role with a high level of responsibility and a big team to manage. But it’s not impossible to get the best of both worlds; by working with your employer to create a role that suits your new family responsibilities, and benefits the business too.

Louise Carling, HR recruitment consultant at Macildowie, shares her advice on how parents can negotiate flexible working:

Many parents returning to work are nervous about what their role will now look like. A lot could have changed in the months you’ve been away, so be honest with your employer about your expectations, and be ready to adapt to a new team structure, which may have evolved while you’ve been off.

You should expect the same in return, so do everything you can to understand your organisation’s priorities and ask lots of questions. What do they want to achieve when you come back to work, and have their sales or business objectives changed? What are they worried about with your return and how can you anticipate solutions to their concerns?

Whether you’re hoping to come back part time, or have more flexible hours, you will need to prove you can still do the job or offer an alternative to how it could work. Pull out your personal development record and highlight your strengths, and what you have brought to the business during your time there. It’s about showcasing why you’re so invaluable, and how having you back on your terms is significantly better than not having you back at all.

One option which works for many of candidates is to suggest a period of grace, and perhaps the opportunity for trial days or keeping in touch days in the run-up to your official return date. Trial the nursery run, meet the team (and any new additions) and attend a couple of meetings to get back into the swing of things. It’ll show commitment to your firm and a hunger to get back on track as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Last but by no means least – don’t feel like your old job is your only option. Flexibility for parents returning after maternity or paternity leave varies depending on sector and the skills required. But you’re not under any obligation to stick with the organisation you left. If your current role doesn’t end up working, perhaps it’s time to move. We see a growing market for part-time career options – particularly for the more senior levels of management, and many employers recognise that flexible working can be a good option for companies which do not have the confidence to invest back in full-time positions.

If your old boss can’t provide the flexibility you are after, consider applying to new sectors. We find professional services to be really accommodating, as key achievements often rely on personal relationships between client and agency – something that can’t be easily replicated if you have been working in your role for a while.

On the other hand, manufacturing firms tend to be output-driven, so often do not bode well with flexible staff. Similarly, senior roles in retail can be more testing for new parents, as they often come with intense commuter demands if your patch is spread across the country.

Ultimately, as long as you are honest, transparent with your objectives and are happy to consider other options, working with your management team to negotiate flexible working shouldn’t be an arduous process. No business wants to lose a valuable member of their team – and it’s up to you to prove your value while keeping your work/life balance at the forefront of your mind.

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