Maternity leave is an incredible time, where you have the freedom to connect with your baby and adjust to life with your new addition. But as wonderful as this time is, returning to work after maternity leave can feel daunting. Often time spent away from the office leaves you feeling insecure, plagued with self-doubt over whether you’re competent enough to return to the workplace. Will people still take you seriously? Will you be on top of industry trends after such a long break? Are you still capable after months of baby talk? On top of these worries, mothers also have to deal with the added stress and guilt of leaving their new baby with a minder or at a crèche, while figuring out how to squeeze in a whole new baby routine around an already demanding workday.
That’s why it’s not surprising that a new study shows that both women and men notice a decrease in self-confidence when leaving work to have children, although men tend to recover far quicker than women when they do return to their work routine. For those of you who are feeling nervous about the shift back into work mode, here are five simple tips to help you build up your confidence after maternity leave.
1. Recognise your new skills Try to avoid feeling like you’re less that you were before, when the reality is that you’re better! Reflect on all the new skills you’ve learnt over the past few months and think about how you can effectively transfer these skills into the workplace. Everything from time management and planning, to problem solving and crisis management, not to mention negotiation skills and financial management experience; having a baby truly is a steep learning curve, filled with plenty of useful knowledge that can translate into a more productive employee.
2. Be clear on your role
Returning to work after maternity leave is a great opportunity to redefine your role and shape it into something that works for the new you. If you have an idea of a new direction you would like to move in, or even a new role altogether, schedule some time with your boss or manager to discuss it before you have a chance to fall back into your old position. Even if you’re happy with your previous position, it’s worth chatting to your boss so that they can outline what your role is, as some things may have changed in your absence. Starting off with a clear understanding of your role and responsibilities will help you feel in control and less overwhelmed.
3. Ask for flexibility if you need it
Before you return to work it’s worth wrapping your head around different ways that you’re able do your job, that may better integrate with your new lifestyle. Of course, some employers will be less flexible than others, but you'll never know what the possibilities are unless you ask. Remember that in the modern workplace, less importance is placed on the number of hours spent at the office and more on your ability to produce results (regardless of where you are or when you do it). When you have the discussion, make sure to emphasise the value you add and the quality of your work, as opposed to the number of hours you put in. As a mother, you’ll soon realise that you need to learn to expect the unexpected, and having the flexibility to stay home to look after a sick child can be vital to whether you’re happy in your job or not. Having a good understanding of what will be possible in these scenarios will help put your mind at ease, allowing you to better focus on your work.
4. Get a mentor If you’re feeling unsure of your career path and worry that you may have veered off track by taking such a long break, it can often help to get advice and support from someone you admire. If you feel awkward asking them to be your official mentor, simply make friends with them and ask for their advice. They will be flattered that you value their opinion, and getting an outsiders perspective can really help you plot the next stage of your career, building your confidence as you go.
5. Make sure you feel good about yourself
Although not strictly necessary, getting a fresh haircut or buying a new work outfit can work wonders in terms of boosting your confidence on your return to work, especially during those first few nerve-wracking days. After giving birth, many women tend to feel self-conscious about their appearance. Investing in a few new items can make you feel great, and can also help you separate your work identity by doing away with your daily mom-wear and maternity clothes. Another option is to update your makeup, to enhance your beauty and boost your confidence. Either way, it’s a good idea to dress up a bit those first few days, as you’re sure to feel better about yourself when you see the way that others react to you.
For all of you already back at work, what did you do? Please share your tips.
HANNA GIRLING, wife, mother, business owner, coach, sport enthusiast and forever an optimist.