What changes when working abroad or having a baby

How I felt on my return from working abroad is the closest parallel I’ve been able to find in terms of how it could feel to return from maternity. The nose dive in self-confidence in particular.
work abroad
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I was in the US for almost a year the first timeI returned at the end of the summer holidays, so like most other young people my age, I headed off to the local pubI anticipated queries as to where I’d been, but instead I got, Oh, we thought we hadn’t seen you around for a while.’Talk about anti-climax.  And then came the really weird realisation that the very same people who hadn’t missed me, were still here, doing the same thing, a whole year later.  Nothing had really changed for them that I could see, yet I felt utterly transformed.This incongruence left me feeling disheartened and slightly down.

The second time I worked away, I was in Cairo for two years, and by this time, I had two children under the age of threeA difficult job, a constant battle with my young son suffering from breathing difficulties and the whole family having bouts of dysentery, stretched me almost to breaking point – it was seriously tough. So I happily looked forward to and welcomed a return back into the same familiar company. Until I realised everything had changed.  The entire top team of the organisation had been replaced. I didn’t know how it worked anymore and my sponsors and mentors who had previously looked out for me had leftVery disconcerting.

But people assumed again that I was the same person who had leftIt was as if the two years hadn’t happened.  My company had minimal experience of sending people abroad, so perhaps not unexpectedly, there was no programme of support, no help with re-integration, no careers advice, no attempt to capture or understand my skills and experience, both of which, contrary to the assumptions made by most, had not been frozen in time.  A parallel experience perhaps, for those returning from maternity leave

Like many who come back after a stint abroad or having a baby, I ultimately chose to leave the company I was inherently fond of. This decision was in sharp contrast to how I felt after returning post maternity.  Because of the brilliant support I had been given by a couple of key managers, I felt motivated to stay, and was fiercely loyal to both them and the company.  But on my return from a tough two year overseas assignment, the lack of support was disappointing and I felt let down

So I made a choice.I decided that rather than having to prove myself all over again, I might as well put my energy and effort into somewhere new. Having joined as a graduate thirteen years earlier, I moved onto a competitor, funnily enough,into a significantly bigger role.

Companies can do so much more to support employees as they go through the life changing experience of starting a family or working abroadWhat companies do or don’t do at these critical moments has a direct impact on retention. 

And after all, nurturing and taking care of those within an existing talent pipeline at a crucial time in their lives, is a lot less expensive than having to recruit and train from scratch.

About the author:


Helen Sachdev is one of the Founders of WOMBA as well as being a senior executive, a Trustee with both  the CIMA UK Board and Leicester University Student’s Union, and an Executive Coach.

She is a mother of two who is committed to making the world a better place for working parents.


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