Returning to work | The conversations you need to have – with yourself & your employer

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When I would tell people I was heading back to work after having a baby, it was hard not to notice a stock response: a head tip to one side, a furrowed brow and an expression of sympathy.

Ever the contrarian, I took great pleasure in proclaiming, “actually, I can’t wait to get back” and watching them search for a sign that my ‘brave face’ might slip.

I’m know I’m lucky to feel like this. I have a job I love and an employer who recognises the need to support working women through the family years.

The Specialist Works listened to and supported a business case for flexible working and a phased return that was mutually beneficial. It enabled me to feel excited and ready to return to work earlier than initially planned. Win win!

If you need support in building an argument for flexible working, there is now compelling evidence on the value of gender diversity for businesses – and supportive working arrangements undoubtedly increase the numbers of women who can reach and thrive in senior positions.

But, simplistic as it sounds, before you can start asking for what you want, you need to work out what that is.

How will you know what you should ask for? How can you start off your new work/life balance in a way that positions you and your employer for success?

During the haze of the first few weeks of motherhood, where you find yourself surround by new mums, every conversation is dominated by sharing experiences of feeding, sleeping and nappy changes. After the fog lifts you begin to get to know the women behind the child.

These conversations were fascinating.

I met women who chose to give up work the moment they get pregnant, women who were still running their own businesses and ones, like myself, who were chomping at the bit to return.

However, every journey, whether it be pregnancy, birth, motherhood or heading back to work is a personal one and 99% of the advice is entirely subjective. The universal theme however was everyone spoke of finding ‘the right balance’.

One of the most enlightening conversations I had was with a woman on maternity leave from a company that specialised in supporting women in the workplace.

She gave me some very powerful advice: Actively think about and then plan for what success looks like to you.

She advised asking 3 simple but searching questions.

What does success look like at work?

Are you aiming for a promotion? Do you want to drive change in your organisation? Win awards? Manage your team effectively? Get positive feedback at your appraisal?

What does success look like as a mother?

Do you want to be at the school gate at 3pm every day? Not miss bed time? Be the mother who scratch cooks & makes the homemade birthday cakes?

What does success look like for your personal life?

Making time for your partner? Nights out with your friends? Getting to the gym twice a week? Getting your nails done on a Saturday morning?

It’s this collection of smaller things that (let’s be honest, you take for granted before you have a child) are essentially your ‘life’; what makes you, you.

As this process progressed I realised I either needed to find two extra days in the week, or give up sleep to balance what I’d hoped for. This gave me a chance to review, rethink and make priorities. If I hadn’t realised this early enough, I would have set myself up for failure.

So with a bit of fine tuning I realised that a 4 day working week, a commitment not to miss bedtime two nights in a row, giving up social media (and If I’m really honest, the gym 90% of the time) I’m finding my new version of success, albeit with shop bought 1st birthday cake and perfectly polished nails.

About the author

Verity Brown is Managing Partner at The Specialist Works.

Verity kicked off her media career after being commissioned as The Sun’s official ‘Chav Correspondent’, then in 2007 moved into the world of media agencies.

She joined The Specialist Works having worked on some of the UK’s biggest and most demanding accounts, including P&G, Warner Bros, Kellogg’s, McCain and YouTube, with experience spanning planning, strategy, trading, client servicing and insight.

Verity believes a positive and warm working style is key to fostering excellent relationships with agency teams, media owners and clients, and believes an immersive and fun company culture is key for a thriving agency.

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