So you’re planning your return to work after maternity leave. Whether you’ve had your first baby or you’re wrangling a small tribe, it’s not easy. It takes planning and organisation to go back to your paid job following time with a baby.
Here are a few things you can do that will make the transition a little easier.
#1 Know Your Rights on Returning to Work
In Australia, the Fair Work Ombudsman allows for every employee to take 12 months of unpaid maternity or parental leave and return to work after the birth or adoption of their child. The Fair Work Act 2009 ensures you have a right to return to the same job, on the same working conditions after your parental leave. If you want to engage in a different working arrangement, such as part-time hours, this is subject to negotiation with your employer.
The Australian Human Rights Commission states employers must treat workers returning from parental leave fairly. However some parents, often women, still suffer discrimination because organisations don’t comply with their obligations towards returning to work employees. The Fair Work Commission helps employees and employers negotiate and deals with applications relating to unlawful termination.
#2 Organise Your Childcare Arrangements Early
Don’t leave it until a month or two before you’re due back at work to look into childcare. Whether you’re using a formal childcare centre or relatives for care, organise it early, so you don’t have that pressure of not knowing where your child will go. Some childcare centres have lengthy lists, so you may need to wait for a position to become available.
#3 Talk to Your Employer
If you’re anxious about your return to work, speak to your employer in advance. Some mothers are worried about how they can continue breastfeeding, so ask if there’s a room you can use to express.
You may need flexible working hours/time or share arrangements, so put in the request to your employer. If there are any new mums at work, have a chat and ask how they managed their return to work.
#4 Plan Your Nightly Meals
For many people preparing the evening meal is a stressful part of the day. You need to decide what you will eat, shop for the ingredients, cook, eat then clean up. It’s hard enough when you haven’t been at work all day let alone the limited time available for preparing meals after work.
Prepare Meals Yourself in Advance
If you’re going to work part-time, it may be possible to do much of the prep in advance. On your day off before a workday, you might make a double portion of a meal, so you only need to heat leftovers after work. Some people like to get organised on the weekend with shopping and preparing ingredients or meals for the week ahead. Try to do a menu plan for the week to reduce the number of trips you need to make to the shop.
Slow cookers are handy for preparing the ingredients ahead of time, so on the morning of a work day, you just drop them in the slow cooker and turn it on.
There’s also the delivery services that drop off the ingredients and recipe cards for meals that can be prepared in half an hour.
Have Someone Else Do the Cooking
There are several meal services available that do the cooking for you. Some come to your house to prepare multiple meals that they leave in the fridge. Others deliver pre-prepared meals. You could pay a friend or family member to cook nutritious home cooked meals for you. Look at your budget and available time to decide what’s best for you.
#5 Decide How You Will Cope with Witching Hour
Besides getting to work each morning, the next hardest part of the day is night time. If you finish work at 5pm, pick up your child on the way home from work, it's the witching hour.
Your baby will likely be tired and grumpy (and so might you) but you still need to feed, bath and put them down to sleep before you can have a rest. Try to have a routine so your baby knows what to expect next.
Something as simple as having some healthy cookies or a muffin on hand to give an older child can make all the difference.
#6 Get Organised the Night Before
You’ve probably been told all your life to get organised the night before, but this is when you need it most. After a busy day, the last thing you probably feel like thinking about is what’s needed to do it all again tomorrow. But getting organised at night makes the morning rush much easier.
Decide what clothes and shoes you will wear and do any ironing. Pack everything you need in your work bag. Prepare your lunch and put it in the fridge. Check the baby bag has enough nappies, wipes, change of clothes and toys.
Finally, make sure the car keys are in their spot. No one needs to be looking for their keys in the morning.
#7 Do a Practice Run
There will be plenty of stress involved in your first day back at work. You can iron out some of the mistakes by doing a practise run. In the lead-up to your return date, do a practise run of getting ready and leaving the house at the required time.
Decide what time you need to wake up to get yourself and your children ready then set the alarm (if your baby doesn’t act as your alarm clock!). Shower and dress yourself then get the kids ready and grab everything you need to take with you. Leave the house and drive to where you’re dropping off your child then on to your workplace. Time how long each leg of your trip takes.
After returning home from your practice run, think about how you can improve the getting ready process. If the traffic was bad during part of your trip, research another route you can take.
Remember, No One Can Do It All
You might look around and think everyone but you has figured it all out. But it’s not the case. Working and looking after small humans is no minor gig and pretty much universally, all parents struggle in the early days.
Ask for Help
Remember to ask for help if you need it. Most employers are fair on their staff and realise that raising a child and working isn’t easy. They expect there to be a transition time needed to return to work after maternity leave.
There may be times when you think returning to work was a bad idea, but most get through the difficult days and get to enjoy their career once again. Once you have your routine sorted, may even begin to appreciate the small freedoms that come with returning to work, like being able to enjoy a cup of tea/coffee, having an adult conversation that is not all about your children, or going to the toilet without interruptions!
Be Kind to Yourself
This is a time of intense physical and psychological change. No one says you have to get it right all of the time, so don’t expect it of yourself. Look after your health so you can look after others and try to find some time each week for yourself to enjoy life.
If you need help transitioning back to work after maternity leave, contact PeopleSense by Altius on 1300 307 912 or (08) 9388 9000 or contact us online.