For many people the journey from being a career person to the world of parenthood is akin to the 'great unknown.' But, for some, the most difficult transition is when maternity leave is almost over and you're on the verge of returning to an office that has most likely undergone several changes since you've been gone.
While it's common in the UK for organisations to run a program helping parents with the transition from work to parenthood and then from being at home to returning to the workforce – it's a concept that is only slowly being embraced in Australia.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there's a major drop off for women returning to work, with 47 per cent of women reporting that they did not return to work before their child turned 2. Of those who did not return, most (88 per cent) stated that their reason for doing so was to care for their child.
However, with an increasing number of women now in senior leadership, there's a growing focus on helping them keep on track with their careers.
"We need to look at ways of supporting them and keeping them on track with their careers. Equally there is also a need to support fathers through the transition as it is not all plain sailing for them either and we want to encourage men to take more parental leave so women are able to get back into the work force," said Fiona Hitchiner from SeventeenHundred.
Hitchiner told The Huffington Post Australia parental transition training supports parents so they get assistance in not only maintaining their role when they return to work, but also help them actively progress their career.
"Going back to work after parental leave means going through an emotional curve. They'll be thinking, 'Will I survive, will my baby survive, what's my identity, will my baby love me?' These are real considerations, so having strategies in place by organisations to help people normalise that process with practical guidelines is so important," Hitchiner said.
"Also, for when they're still on parental leave, we can teach them how to engage their clients so they become an active participant in their parental leave, rather than sitting back and letting others make decisions for you."
Kate Sykes from Career Mums helps train parents who are making the transition from work to home, work-from-home and then back to work again.
"Before you go on parental leave, you should assist in the recruitment of a temporary person for your role. You are the best person to make sure that your role is being look after properly so you don't come back to even more work," Sykes said.
"Talk to your manager about possible return to work options. Consider a gradual return to work. Childcare and kids are a recipe for a high use of sick leave in the first few months so be prepared. For example, work two days per week for four weeks, then three days for four weeks. Think about whether you want to access your emails or be kept in the loop on various projects and establish how you'd like to stay in touch with your Manager."
Sykes said it's also a good idea to check out the Federal Government's Keeping in Touch Days.
Kate Syke's Tips For Maternity Leave & Back To Work.
- Talk to colleagues who have already made the transition back to work. What great tips can you pick up?
- The smoother the home front is, the better your return to work will be. Spend time locating quality child care and start talking to your partner about sharing the load.
- If you are a perfectionist and have been used to work ridiculous hours, get ready to change. The quality of work is now critical, not the quantity of time you commit to work.
- Request a gradual return to work and/or a flexible work arrangement.
- Some people are going to treat your career differently now because you are a parent. The question is whether you are prepared to be treated like that. You have just been through the biggest challenge of your life (birth!). Your resilience levels are now on steroids. Do what you need to do to get through for a few months, then unleash the beast.
"Many women have trodden this path, and have survived and flourished. Look after yourself while looking after everyone else. Work with your family to make it work," said Sykes.
"Every family situation is different so try not to compare yourself to everyone else. It is a tiring new world, but you would never go back."