Returning to work: how coaching can help

Jo Reeves from Barefoot Coaching outlines how mums can put a strong case for what you need on your return from a career break.


Returning to work after a break (of any sort) can feel daunting, but returning after parental leave can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. Barefoot Coaching In-House Coach, Tutor, and Women’s Development Specialist, Jo Reeves [pictured above], shares her expertise on how to successfully utilise coaching practices in the workplace.

Equality vs equity

Communication is the key to easing your return to work. We can often fall into the trap of assuming that others know what our needs are, but often, this is not the case.

Your colleagues’ needs (and availability) may no longer align with yours, and that’s ok. Do not take on any feelings of guilt if you can no longer attend that 9am meeting because you have a nursery run to do. As a new working parent, the focus is on equity, not equality.

Whereas equality is about treating everybody the same, equity is about having what you need to be on a level playing field with those around you and ensure the best outcome for work and home.

So, in the case of the 9am meeting, using assertive communication can establish an equitable solution that sets clear boundaries. If you need to be in the meeting, it needs to start at 9.30 am.

Assertive communication

Assertiveness is a far cry from being bossy, and yet the two can be conflated, both internally and externally. Remember it’s ok to establish your needs and communicate them. The optimum working situation for you will benefit everyone, including you, your family, colleagues and employer.

So, how can you start dialling up your assertive communication? Tip one, stop saying sorry. Sure, if you make an honest mistake at work, then taking accountability is necessary. However, apologising for prioritising your needs must stop.

Tip two, take out the word ‘just’ in your written communication. An email that starts “just to check” or “just wondering” is a glorified apology and signals to the receiver that whatever you’re emailing about needs to be apologised for. Replace this passive phrasing with assertiveness; drop the ‘just’.

How to structure assertive communication

A tool that I share with my clients and groups regularly (I even have it printed on my office wall) is to structure communication with:

  • I feel (insert emotion)
  • When (insert situation)
  • Because (insert impact)
  • And, what I need/desire is (insert what you want/need)

This can be used for any type of communication, written or verbal. When using this in the example of that 9am meeting invite, it would look like this:

“I feel challenged when meetings are scheduled for first thing in the morning because I now have parental responsibilities that mean I am unable to be at my desk at 9am.Therefore, I need the team to avoid scheduling meetings, that I am required for, before 9:30am to ensure I can attend.”

If you do nothing else after reading this article – quit apologising for things that don’t require an apology and avoid allowing passiveness to seep into your communication. A return to work from parental leave is difficult for many reasons, but inconsideration from employers shouldn’t be one of them.

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