A Smooth Return to Work After Maternity Leave


Use your voice to support returning back to work from maternity leave smoothly 

During my thirteen years of navigating corporate America, I definitely learned the importance of networking outside of the office. Volunteering for those special projects and showing up to those off-hours events helped make me visible and ensure I was considered come promotion time.

Before I became a mother, I felt strong in my workplace. Though I unfortunately still experienced some of the barriers many women feel, I was optimistic as I saw trailblazing senior executive women impact change ahead of me.  I had gotten to know several of the decision-makers that could help take me to the next level in leadership. 

Then motherhood came and completely changed everything I thought about how commitment and confidence looked in the workplace. 

With my new child at home, I could no longer stay late nor did I want to. As I returned to work, I was in a slight fog from being up at night with my baby and sometimes the expectations at my job seemed impossible to meet. My new reality of career and motherhood didn’t seem to gel in those moments.

As I encountered these feelings of confusion and dueling priorities, I started to realize that, in order to make my life and work commitments sync together, I would need to use my voice. So, I decided to use my voice to support my career while also helping others.   

Returning to work after parental leave is eye-opening (to say the least!) as you experience so many changes that will now impact how you approach your work. But (make no mistake!) the challenges in returning to work are a stepping stone to knowing your voice matters. Advocating for what you need can be accomplished all while showing the value of motherhood in the workplace and I’ll show you how. 

Here are some great ways to advocate for yourself while still showing support for your employer when returning to work:

  1. Know your maternity leave rights (both state, federal and company policy). When you start being asked to return to work, or decide on your return date on your own accord, it’s important to already know your maternity leaves rights based on the state you live in, as well as existing company policy.  Knowing your rights in terms of your job protection as well as what is available to you within your company, state, and federal support will help you navigate these conversations. When you know your rights, you can lead the conversation rather than your organization leading you. If or when you decide to push back to ensure you receive all of your maternity benefits, know that you may experience pushback or questions. Be prepared and make these conversations meaningful so you can properly communicate what you’re “asking” for and you are “owed.” 
  2. Set expectations for your return to work. When preparing to go back to work, I recommend pro-actively scheduling a meeting with your boss or team members in order to set expectations around how you’d like to return to work. If you’re asking for an adjusted schedule, having a proposal drafted to review demonstrates your readiness and commitment to the organization. 
  3. Be authentic. Authenticity and advocacy go hand and hand and can help you exhibit your strength as an employee and a working parent. It’s okay to be authentic in the workplace; you’re an employee and a parent, a team member and a leader at home. Showing boundaries in your work hours is a great example of how to be authentic to your new work/life balance. Share with your team when you can and cannot be available (especially now with COVID changing so many family schedules!) and honor that time. Your team will respect you for setting boundaries and your family will appreciate your attention when they need it. 
  4. Ongoing communication is vital. Schedule a monthly, if not a weekly, check-in with your manager and team upon returning back to work so that expectations are clear and communication stays open. Use these check in’s as an opportunity to openly receive feedback from your manager while also demonstrating your commitment to your organization. The more open the communication, the more likely everyone is clear on your role and availability.  

I’ll end by saying that what I’ve described above is no easy feat! It takes extra effort to set your expectations, communicate authentically, and ensure you and your employer are on the same page. Know that your voice matters in these discussions so if you have something to say, say it! Don’t shy away from the tough conversation. Your needs during this challenging transition must be known or no one will be able to help you. Outline those needs and communicate them early and often so the transition back to the workplace is smooth.  

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Author Kimberly Didrikson has three small children aged 6, 4, and 2. Kimberly worked in corporate America for over 15 years before founding Learning Motherhood, an organization that helps women returning back to work after having a baby. Learning Motherhood creates customized programs to assist organizations in building a work environment that embraces families to strengthen company values, sustain and retain employees while attracting strong talent to their organizations. For daily support for working parents follow @learningmotherhood.