A Guide to Returning from Parental Leave

Oct 5, 2021 | Culture, Team Development

“A Guide to Returning from Parental Leave” is exactly what I wish I had one month ago, when I returned to work here at MacPhie, a management consulting firm in Toronto.  When I returned to work after my first mat leave, I wasn’t so much “returning” to an old job as starting a new one.  But this mat leave was different.  I was coming back to  MacPhie and I very quickly realized I had unique needs that needed to be met and acknowledged.

I decided to create my own “Post-Maternity Leave Re-Onboarding Plan.” It’s still a work in progress, but I hope that my tips can help other parents with the tricky shift back to work.

Check in With Yourself

If you are reading this as a new parent (or old-hat parent like me!), I want to say: returning to work can bring up a lot of emotions including relief, guilt, worry, and anxiety.  All are very real and justified.  Whatever you feel about returning to work, your feelings are valid. Sit with them, acknowledge them, and work through them.

In my case, I was nervous.  How would I balance being a mom of two young kids with the need to prove myself to a largely new team of colleagues in a hybrid/remote working environment? Would I remember how to do my job? How would I fit into team dynamics and find my place and my footing? Had the company culture changed?  How would I navigate that?  All of that became part of my “re-onboarding plan.”

Connect with Others

Chances are, while you’ve been on leave, a fair bit has changed on your team. In my case, I had a whole new slate of colleagues and I was concerned about how I would quickly reintegrate with the team. With that in mind, I began to schedule one-on-one video calls with key members of our team, to introduce myself (in the case of new colleagues) and check in on what’s been going on with work since I left. I did this in the two months prior to my return, so that I would be a familiar face on my first day back and also so that first day wouldn’t be as daunting for me.

Communicate your Needs

In addition, I recommend meeting with your supervisor to let them know your specific needs upon return. Depending on your level of communication with your workplace during your leave, there may be a lot you need to know. Here are some key areas to cover:

  • Logistics: How will I get my office key/laptop?
  • COVID-19: What is the office COVID-19 policy? Are we hybrid/remote/in-person? What will be expected of me in terms of in-person work?
  • Workload: Who will be updating me on the status of projects I’m involved in? How will I fit into team effectiveness? How will work be transitioned to me? Who can I turn to with questions?
  • Accommodations: If you need any accommodations as a working parent (say, slightly different working hours to help with daycare pick-up/drop-off) it’s good to mention them now. You don’t have to get to closure, but letting your supervisor know about your needs is an important step in getting them met and ultimately doing your best work.

Ideally, aim to schedule a couple of re-onboarding sessions for your first week back: one focused on project updates/assignments, and another devoted to information about any significant changes to internal policies or processes during your absence.

It can feel uncomfortable to make “demands” upon your colleagues and employer, but if you don’t clearly articulate your needs – and ask questions – chances are, people will just assume you know what’s going on. After all, you are a “returning” employee and not a new one. And I guess that’s what I was worried about: that I would feel “new” and people would expect me to “just know.” While everyone’s experience is different, one month into my own back-to-work, I’ve surprised myself by just how much I know. So, if you made it this far in reading this blog, I want to leave you with this: you got this. From one parent to another, you’re going to do great and work is lucky to have you. Welcome back!

For more on Team Development, check out how we can help your team be higher performing!

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