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6 tips to return to work after maternity leave

By Alison Rodericks | 01 March 2019

Returning to work after maternity leave presents many challenges for the average worker. Since 2011, Australian parents have been entitled to 18 weeks of paid parental leave at the national minimum wage. Having to return to work after maternity leave often comes as a shock to the system for most new mothers (let’s face it, it’s usually the women who take parental leave).

There’s a tug-of-war between wanting to care for your child just a little bit longer (hello, mummy guilt!) and having to return to work out of sheer necessity (hello, mortgage payments!).

It is fraught with challenges: the stress of coping with the workload, the fear of not being able to do the job after a long break, the constant juggle of family life with a career. No wonder most new mums feel overwhelmed and anxious. Here are some tips to make the transition back to work after maternity leave as smooth and as stress-free as possible.

Know your rights

6 tips to return to work after maternity leave

According to the Fair Work Act 2009, mothers are entitled to return to their pre-parental leave position, or, if that position no longer exists, the nearest possible position in terms of role and pay. As a new parent, you also have the right to request flexible work arrangements like part-time-work.

The reality is, many employers don't always follow the rules. Reports of discrimination, often disguised as concern for your family’s welfare, are rife. Make sure you're not being short-changed at work – or worse, unfairly dismissed – because you had a baby.

Keep up to date

Yes, you’re knee-deep in nappies and night feeds, but make the time to peruse the papers, watch the news and keep abreast of what’s happening in the real world and in your workplace. If you’ve taken a year or more off work, chances are, your job role would have changed drastically during this time.

It is up to you to update your skill set so that you’re not out of your depth once you return to work. Upskilled has a wide variety of online courses ranging from certificates to graduate diplomas so that’s you have the know-how when it’s time to return to work.  

Negotiate flexible working conditions

6 tips to return to work after maternity leave

Flexible work practices is an essential element to retain women in the workforce. While working part-time is the most commonly reported flexible work arrangement for mothers returning to work (65%), you should also look into other possibilities like working from home, doing shift work or working flexible hours. 

If you're returning to work in a flexible role (i.e. full-time to part-time), it is important to discuss and confirm in writing all these arrangements before you go on maternity leave. Keep in mind that while part-time work gives working mums the work-life balance they need, people often wrongly perceive you as someone who is prioritising their child over their career. You need to assure your boss that you are committed to your role and will maintain productivity. 

Do a trial run

Yes, you’ve got the all-important spot at daycare, but do you know how long your drop-off will actually take? It’s best to prepare and plan ahead. Do a dry run before you return to work, mimicking exactly what you would do on the actual day – dressing up for work, packing your baby’s things, driving the same route to daycare or the grandparents’ house. This gives you the opportunity to fix foreseeable problems and adjust your routine when D-day rolls by.

Have a Plan B

6 tips to return to work after maternity leave

You need a support network (partner, mother-in-law, best friend, neighbour) in case your Plan A falls apart – as it often does. What if you baby has a cold and cannot go to daycare? Discuss contingency plans with your boss/ HR department. For instance, can you work from home if your baby is sick? Do you have remote access and a work laptop? Master the art of doing your work in advance to make room for any eventuality that may come up with your kids.

Simplify your life

Apply the Marie Kondo method to your life. Simplify it and get rid of things that do not “spark joy”. Do you really need to be scrolling through Facebook at 11pm when you could be sleeping? Do you have to attend that business meeting after hours? Do your kids need so many toys that clutter up your home? Use technology to your advantage to synchronise calendars, set up reminders, automate bill payments, etc. but don’t let it overtake your life.

Yes, there will be days that end in tears (and not from your baby) and times that you want to want to give up. Breathe. Things will get better. You’ve got this!

Research your career progression options

Upskilled now has dedicated careers and job roles pages where you can research important metrics such as salary expectations, skills needed and accreditations required. Head to the Upskilled Careers section for more advice on how to re-enter the workforce.

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