Going back to work after the birth of a child is challenging for all kinds of reasons.
Many parents feel guilty or anxious as they leave their child with a caregiver for the first time. On top of those family concerns, they may feel like those months away from the daily grind of the office have left them hopelessly behind or out of touch with their jobs, leading them to wonder how—or if—they’ll be able to catch up.
The reception they receive as they return to work could further complicate the situation. As noted in a Fairygodboss article, many new parents feel the need to go above and beyond to prove themselves, even as they discover they are treated differently than they were before.
“Every situation is different, but remember that your overall reputation and good work will speak for itself and everyone is entitled to a bad day or a bad week,” the article says. “Just remember that there are many other issues that affect employee performance where nobody necessarily expects someone to ‘make up’ for it (at least right away). Family illnesses, divorces, or even messy break-ups can all temporarily affect employee performance.”
A new parent who wants to overcome such difficulties should focus on the right things when returning to work. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, those returning to work after parental leave should concentrate on their sense of self, their boss, and their corporate culture.
“Strategically managing all three will not only make your own journey a lot easier, you’ll also contribute to adapting your company to twenty-first century realities,” says the HBR article.
The focus on self starts by aligning your goals and needs with those of your partner, the article says. This is vital to your success, especially as you realize that you can follow many different paths toward building a strong career and family.
“Dual-career couples need to craft a plan for an over-arching, shared life vision, of which two mutually enhancing career plans are a part,” the HBR piece says. “If you stick to trying to manage two independent career tracks you risk ending up competing rather than collaborating. That’s a guaranteed confidence killer. It’s also not great for your relationship.”
By having open conversations about your individual hopes and dreams for parenting and careers, you can develop a plan that will work for both of you. Just remember that you’ll also need to show patience and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances.
Next, the article says, focus on your relationship with your boss. This can be difficult for any new parent, but it’s especially challenging for women who work in a male-dominated company.
“Some managers will well-meaningly make assumptions about returning parents, trying to spare them from challenging assignments,” the HBR article says. “Others will, on the contrary, want to test whether you’re still ‘ambitious’ and offer you a promotion in…China. In either case, you’ll need to manage up and lobby clearly for the roles or promotions you are expecting—or the limits you are setting. Don’t expect your boss to understand your inner thoughts or resolve the inevitable conflicts. Pitch a pace, a plan, and a solution. Then check in regularly.”
Finally, pay attention to the corporate culture. Most companies today still expect people to follow a traditional, linear career path. If you want your path to include more flexibility and balance, you might have some work to do.
“Some companies have great policies, but managers who aren’t very open to applying them,” the HBR article says. “Make sure you know what the corporate rules of the game are in your company. If they’re unclear, reach out to other colleagues with kids.
“The policies are often in place, but behaviors lag a generation behind. Two-thirds of men would take parental leave if they thought it wouldn’t negatively impact their career. But times are changing fast. Both men and women need to be part of the change we all want to see.”
If your company is truly interested in retaining its best employees—including new parents—it should have back-to-work policies in place to help ease your transition. That includes flexible work options and support at the office, such as dedicated rooms for nursing mothers.
“Taking care of employees when they’re welcoming a new baby has a great impact on employee satisfaction,” says an article from Care.com. “Making community resources available to employees gives options and choices that can help make the work-life balance more harmonious.”
Your return to work as a new parent will be difficult. For some people, it may be one of the most challenging situations they face during their careers. But if you approach it with patience—in yourself and others—and focus on the right things, you can make it work.
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