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Working part-time after maternity leave may be a smart move for new mums

By Emilly Parris

Being a new parent comes with its challenges, and for most mothers the choice to return to work is rarely an easy one. Whether you’ve been out of the workforce for a year or several years, it can be difficult to know how to approach your changing circumstances effectively. Although juggling parental duties with work can be tough, new laws are being introduced by the Fair Work Commission regarding flexible work arrangements that may ease some of this struggle.

You may know that as an employee returning to work after parental leave, you are entitled to return to your previous role. You can also request that your employer create a flexible working arrangement to help you adjust to working life while also allowing you to be present for your family. According to a report by the Parents and Carers Network, 44% of Australian working parents and carers say they would like to have more control over when and where they work.

Under the Fair Work Act, if you are responsible for the care of a child and are returning to work after taking leave you may request to work part-time, during different working hours or remotely if your role allows.

In a recent article on ABC Life author Grace Jenning-Edquist says that although these rights are protected by the Fair Work Act, not all employers honour them. In fact, one-third of Australian mothers report having experienced discrimination when returning to work after parental leave.

This discrimination is not always easy to spot because it is often masked as concern. Some employers may decide to take away certain responsibilities from your role without your consent or knowledge, effectively “demoting” you to a lower paid position.

Flexible arrangements benefit everybody

mother working from home with toddler

Lead Researcher at La Trobe University Dr Stacey Hokke believes that more flexible workplaces would also benefit employers. “We know people with high burnout are more likely to change jobs, be more absent from work and have lower job performance, so having that flexibility is one way to reduce those effects,” she says.

Part-time work can allow you to balance time with your family while keeping your career afloat. If you’re hoping to return to full-time work in the future, it’s important to stay connected with other professionals in your industry and working part-time is a great way to do that. Not only does a part-time job help you avoid a long employment gap in your resume, it also allows you to set a more flexible schedule while you’re at home.

Defining part-time work

In Australia, part-time work is defined as a minimum of 8 hours and less/fewer than 38 ordinary hours per week over a roster cycle. Employers and employees must agree on the minimum number of hours to be worked each week, and the times the employee is available to work.

The reality of being a mother is that parenting is a full-time job—it’s round-the-clock work. A part-time job can provide some structure to your day and give you the chance to take a break from the demands of parenting. Working part-time can also help offset the costs of childcare, which are often high for mothers in heavily populated areas, such as the inner city.

Every new parent can agree that being surrounded by family is important, especially in those early years when your baby is growing before your eyes. Flexible work, such as part-time work can allow you to choose the kind of education and care you want for your child while also keeping childcare costs down.

Making part-time work for you

work-life balance concept

One of the biggest concerns mothers have when returning to the workforce is the perceived missed opportunities for career growth. A part-time job may at first appear to be a step back, but it can eventually lead to full-time work when you’re ready to take that leap and you’ve discussed your career plans with your employer. Some mothers find that undergoing training or taking a course in their field helps to fill in any skills gaps and add credibility to their work history.

At the end of the day, your value as an employee isn’t based on whether you work part-time, full-time or even remotely. It’s about how well you perform your role and how present you are for your team when they need you. Maintaining a work-life balance is important for most workers, and for new parents it is especially crucial.
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