Returning to work after maternity leave is tough – don’t make it tougher

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Article provided by Holly Pither, PR Associate Director, Bottle

I’m in my second week of being back at work as an associate director at Bottle, a PR agency, after almost a year on maternity leave and I have to say that, so far, it has been pretty good. I have enjoyed the challenges thrown at me and most importantly I haven’t struggled too much with getting back into the swing of things.

Undoubtedly the reason for this is twofold, 1) because I made the most of my Keeping in Touch (KIT) days and 2) because I was able to negotiate a staggered return to work; working just two days a week for approximately two months, before I switched it up a level to go back up to four days.

I am certain that, had I not been able to sort these two things, my return to work would have been so much harder. I would have felt disorganised, stressed and generally overwhelmed at trying to balance work and home life with a new baby.

So let’s talk about KIT days. In my opinion, well managed KIT days will enable a returning member of staff to feel more confident, remind them of how valuable they are to a company and perhaps most importantly, prove to them that they can make both parenting and a career work. This was certainly the case for me.

However, whilst arranging a KIT day may sound simple enough, I have actually heard some real horror stories about them from people contacting me via my blog. People have complained about how hard they were to diarise, were surprised at how their line manager didn’t give them time to arrange childcare in advance, and have also been shocked at their KIT days being cancelled at the last minute. Worst of all, some returning staff have been made to feel like outsiders on their KIT days, left waiting around in reception and not even offered a cuppa when they arrive!

Now I can’t help you with bad line managers or disorganised HR departments (to me there is just no excuse for this at a time when a parent may be feeling most vulnerable), but I can offer some tips on how you make the most of your KIT days if you’re due to return to work soon.

Here are my five tips which may make your KIT days just that little bit easier to manage.

Plan, plan, plan:

Make sure you book meetings in before you return to the office so that your day is orgnaised and runs smoothly. Be sure to book in regular breaks in between each meeting in case something runs on or simply because you know people will grab you in the kitchen. I have to admit I was a little rushed off my feet on my KIT days and only wish I had scheduled in some more breaks just to chat to people and catch up.

Computer says no:

Make sure your tech is set up for you in advance. There is nothing worse than scrabbling around trying to make your PC work the morning you arrive because you haven’t logged on for a while. Likewise try to clear your inbox in advance of your day in the office. Or if you don’t wish to do this in your own time/ you are too busy to do it, make sure you factor in some time into your day in the morning to wade through the millions of emails you will have received. Better still, be brave and press ‘delete all’. Most of them will most likely be junk or out of date anyway!

Get up to speed:

If you work with clients like I do and are due to meet them on your KIT days, make sure you have caught up with your colleagues first or spoken to your maternity cover to find out what’s been going on. You don’t want to be taken by surprise if they throw a curveball your way.

Factor in time for regular coffees and lunch:

Now this may sound silly and perhaps obvious, but if you are a new mum you will totally get me here; enjoy being able to drink a whole cup of hot coffee. Also make the most of having a grown-up lunch where you don’t have to hand over half your food to your baby. This is your day. This is adult time. So make the most of it. Oh and also enjoy having longer, uninterrupted toilet breaks too!

Remember you are still on maternity leave:

Whilst it may seem appealing to take on some tasks that may be discussed during meetings or want to finish something you worked on during your KIT day, remember that you are not back to work full time yet. During my KIT days, there were loads of times I felt like putting my hand up to do something, but I knew it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. Know when to say ‘no’ and when you need to delegate. You’ll find you will be saying ‘no’ more now that you are a working parent anyway, so worth practicing now.

Of course, you don’t have to attend KIT days (they’re not legally binding), but honestly, I can’t recommend them highly enough as a means to stay in touch with your clients/ colleagues and also ease yourself back in gently into a working environment.

Talking of easing yourself in gently, I said above that there were two things that made my return to work smoother, the other of course being my phased return. This, in my opinion, was a massive game changer for me, but I believe it deserves more than my word count will allow me on this occasion. So in my next piece, I will talk about why I think returning parents should be offered a phased return after maternity, paternity or shared adoption leave. I will also make a case for why I think a staggered return is beneficial to both employee and employer. Hope you can join me then. Until then get arranging those KIT days and enjoy some well-deserved adult time when you get back to the office.

About the author

Holly Pither is a new mum to baby Amelia and similarly new to the blogging world. She started her blog when she first went off on maternity leave. Unlike many of her friends, Holly was very fearful of going off on maternity leave, scared about losing her identity and panicked about ‘just being mum’. She writes all about the trials and tribulations of maternity leave and finds it very therapeutic. In her day job Holly is a PR associate director at Bottle, an agency in Oxford. She loves her job and she loves her baby. It is her belief that all parents can love both their kids and their career and, with the right flexibility, neither should suffer. 

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