Career Return Experience
As a Corporate Career Break Return Coach for 3 years and former criminal barrister who navigated my own career break return twice with child 1 and 2 then set up my current coaching business during maternity leave number 3, there isn’t much I haven’t seen or experienced personally about how to return successfully: mostly it centres around confidence, planning and honesty with yourself and others. In this blog, I draw on those experiences and highlight a number of areas to consider whilst pregnant, whilst still off on mat. leave and once you are back, both in the immediate and more longer term.
10 Strategies for a Confident Return from a Career Break
I’ve observed how important it is to approach this time with a plan and make strategic moves around that plan, in particular as early as when you first find out you are pregnant.
Before Maternity Leave Begins
1.Don’t Leave Before you Leave
In her book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg advises pregnant women in the work place “Don’t leave before you leave”, recognising what an important period the remainder of your time at work is for putting you in a strong position for a confident return when finally the time comes. I agree. So much easier whilst you are still in work mode rather than “Mummy Mode” to gather feedback from work about your progress to date, and create and share an up-to-date record of the value you bring to your organisation which will keep you front of mind even whilst off. Likewise, updating your CV and Linkedin BEFORE you go off will keep things much more fresh and current than doing so later down the track when your priorities whilst off might temporarily shift until your return.
Communication before you take your career break is so important too, not only to communicate your expectations about the levels of contact you wish to have with work whilst you are off, ensuring you have input into a maternity leave of your choosing, but also to have those conversations with the boss or your peers about your ambitions- whether for promotion, partnership, or something else- to keep your skin in the game. That way you avoid being written off or side-lined on your return.
Before Returning from Maternity Leave
Your first thoughts for a return are likely to be around childcare options, because these may very well dictate the intricacies of HOW you return. Part of considering whether childcare can be shared with a partner or what the costs of childcare are, and over what period of time, will doubtless influence later conversations with work about options for flexible or part-time working, and the knock-on effect to income and childcare affordability. It’s so important to have a clear idea of what type of return you envisage BEFORE you start those conversations with work, to communicate with your employers your expectations in a way that ensures they not only hear what you say but also understand the implications. That way, you avoid the pitfall of taking a drop in salary to work part-time whilst actually finding yourself earning less for the equivalent of full time hours.
Coaching has its part to play in preparing for a return: going back to work after maternity is a big shift and change brings with it feelings of uncertainty and under confidence. Day to day work that was once second nature, instinctive almost, becomes more challenging, we may feel rusty with both our knowledge and with the introduction of new technology. Other changes that may have taken place since we were off include a change in personnel/ team members. On return, feelings of being at sea, isolated even, are certainly not uncommon. Firstly, take comfort – and increase your confidence – by knowing you are not alone in those feelings. Further, a course of coaching to bridge the gap between preparing to, and successfully navigating a, return can empower returners to transition with confidence and ease.
How to Return from Maternity Leave
5.Ease the Transition
I’ve already touched on the importance of communication, but never more so than on your return. Think about how you can successfully utilise all the tools on offer to your by your employers to make your return transition as smooth as possible: how many Keep In Touch Days are you entitled to? How can you effectively utilise them all? What options are there for a phased return which can help you to upskill on new technology/ current working practices whilst preparing yourself and your baby – more gradually- for the change in expectations and routine. Aligning yourself with, and listen to the shared experiences of, a supportive network within the organisation – whether that be your boss, a colleague or even a coach- may also be of benefit.
6.Mind your Mindset
For yourself, be aware of Mindset: how can you return with positivity and confidence? There is so much work that can be done on mindset, and that is an entire blog topic for another day, but briefly: focus on the positives – your skills and strengths that commend you both to the organisation and to doing a great job on your return, just as you identified your value-add for the organisation prior to the commencement of mat. leave. By doing so you will silence the inner critic or at least turn down the volume on any negative chatter you may have by way of self-doubt.
It can often be a new experience for career break returners that there is a non-negotiable, external demand on your time – the nursery pick up. This has to happen at a certain time every day without exception which means for the first time in your working life, that leaving at 4.30pm for example has to happen, without fail and whether or not a piece of work has been concluded. What I have observed from clients is far from them being “half in”, “knocking off early”, their levels of productivity during the hours they ARE at work are hugely increased. That said, in this increasingly 24/7 hour world of digital distractions, it can sometime be hard to fully own time. I have blogged about this elsewhere, but in brief, planning your day by putting tasks in to order of priority can be helpful, along with being fully present in whatever task it is you are tackling at any one time. If needs be, ensure opportunities to be distracted are reduced by turning off phone/ email/ social media notifications, even engaging air plane mode for times when deeper levels of concentration and focus are required.
8.Learn to Say No
Likewise, as hard as many of us find it, learning to say no can be an important skill to develop to ensure healthy boundaries at work and home. That way, we avoid taking on so much that we feel we are doing everything badly rather than a few things well. A brief check in with yourself before agreeing to any task is helpful: Whose plan am I working to? To what am I prepared to say yes? Communicating the latter to work will be better received than telling them what it is you WON’T do. That way you preserve the impression of being a team player whilst practising the art of saying no.
Moving Onwards and Upwards after Maternity Leave
This section should more accurately include the caveat “Moving Onwards and Upwards after Maternity Leave when the time is right”. No one should under-estimate the changes new parents go through in terms of their priorities. You can imagine: career priorities as a single woman seeking pupillage or training contract at 22 are a whole lot different to those of a 44 working mother of 3 under 4. Everyone’s return is different: some find the return to work enough, just striving to maintain some semblance of order and routine. Others return all hands to the promotional pump, coming back with more verve and determination to reach the next career rung than ever before. The vast majority I have observed though are in the “Deciding to decide” category – biding their time to get the day to day stuff under control first before finally deciding, “now is my time”.
The first and obvious point to make is no one approach fits all: what is right for you is not necessarily right for somebody else. So a helpful starting point is to ask yourself what your goals/ ambitions/ priorities are NOW, not as they once were when you were younger or child-free. Being honest with yourself will allow you to plan sensibly and move forward, at a time of your choosing.
10.Go for it: When you are ready!
Give yourself time to get back in the zone – don’t underestimate the transition from career break to work place return. That way, you can move onwards and upwards when the time is right for you. And once in that zone, go for it! Think of how you can effectively network both within your organisation and externally, by thinking outside of the box: instead of the traditional “drinks after work” scenario, you might need to think more creatively, using shared interests as a common thread and networking online as opposed to in person. Whilst you might have a sense of self-doubt or being time poor, your opportunity to network, say via Linkedin, more effectively and efficiently should neither be overlooked or underestimated: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”.
This blog introduces some of the topics dealt with in my Return with Confidence Career Break Return Webinar which also includes interactive coaching exercises. For more information on that, and how to book the webinar or coaching sessions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Nikki Alderson Biography
Nikki Alderson, specialist Corporate & Executive Coach, Keynote Speaker & Best Selling Author, & former Criminal Barrister with 19 years’ experience,
- supports organisations, law firms & barristers’ Chambers to retain female talent; &
- empowers female lawyers to achieve career ambitions.
Nikki specialises in 3 areas:
- Women Leadership Transition & Change;
- Enhanced Career break returner support; &
- Workplace resilience, mental toughness, confidence & wellness.
She is the author of Amazon No.1 Bestseller Raising the Bar: empowering female lawyers through coaching , (https://amzn.to/3fodKQX) nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards, Champion of the Year Category & finalist in the 2019 International Coaching Awards, International Coach of the Year Category.