It can feel incredibly daunting when you start to consider your return to work after having a baby. Switching your mind from all that being a new mum involves and the fuzzy-headed brain fog that lack of sleep brings can seem a monumental effort.
This can also be true if you’ve taken a longer break to raise a family – the sleep may be improved but now your head is full of school related issues, clubs, activities, friendships, not to mention the huge list of jobs your days are crammed with, leaving you wondering how you’ll ever fit work in.
Even those of you who were heading out on maternity leave still barking instructions to ‘call me if you need me’, ‘don’t forget to….’ and ‘let me know when…’ as your very able colleagues literally push you out of the door, can still find that returning to work is tougher than expected (yep this was me!).
So, know first of all, that you are not alone. Returning to work at any time after a break can be a challenge both practically (childcare, all the extra things you need to do in a day) and emotionally (guilt, lack of confidence).
If you don’t have a job to return to, perhaps you’ve chosen to start something new, were made redundant or your old job is just not doable for you anymore, you may find yourself job hunting and wondering where on earth to begin.
Here’s some ideas to get you started:
1. Start gradually – if you can and if time allows – and take this time to:
• Think about your routine – how much time do you actually have available for work? How will you manage childcare drop-offs and pick-ups? What about the school holidays? What help do you need from others – partner, family, friends? Talk to them about what they are prepared to do. Take the time now to be clear about what is possible so you can be looking for roles that fit.
• Get your child or children settled into a routine before you start work, whether it’s school, nursery, with family or a childminder, so when you are at work you can relax knowing they are well looked after and happy. Any problems that might arise you can deal with then when you’re still at home.
• Get yourself feeling work ready, sort your wardrobe, think about how you can adapt your current style to a work environment. If you’ve not been at work for a while your old work wardrobe might no longer feel like ‘you’ so take some time to think about what would work for you. It’s important to be authentic and choose a style that reflects who you are now, not who you were or who you think you should be, but who you want to be “.
2. When you are ready, get yourself into more of a work-based environment. You could:
• Meet old colleagues or friends for a coffee during the working day, talk to them about work, find out what’s happening for them in their work worlds.
• Attend a networking event relevant to the industry you are interested or join a women’s networking group – they often have great sessions with really inspiring stories to get you motivated.
• Read business magazines, articles, blogs, news stories to get up to date. This is best to do when you have an idea of the area of work you are looking for so you can read relevant, industry specific news.
• Update your profile on LinkedIn and reconnect with old colleagues, join relevant groups, expand your network.
3. Do an audit of your strengths and skills. If you have no idea what role you want, having a look at your strengths and skills can be a helpful starting place to consider what role might fit. There are some good tools for a personal assessment of your strengths – have a look at StrengthsFinder2 for example or Professor Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website. Or take a look back over the past few years, ask yourself what achievements you are most proud of and consider what strengths and skills you used to make these successes happen. Remember to consider your whole life, not just your previous work achievements. It’s amazing how many skills we develop as a mum – communications, negotiations, staying calm in a crisis, organisation, planning, project management. These experiences and strengths and skills can help you with CV and application form preparation.
4. Next consider your work options. With your personal strengths and skills at the front of your mind, think about what you love to do and brainstorm some work ideas. Many of our clients tell us they want to do work that really matters to them after they’ve had children so it could be a role working for an organisation that you align to or for a cause you care about that is most important. What do you really value? And where might you be willing to compromise? Think about the negotiable and the non-negotiable – perhaps you’re ok with accepting a slightly lower paid role if it gives you greater flexibility. Perhaps you’d be happy with a 3 or 4 day role but working 5 days is an absolute no. Maybe the package is more important or perhaps you have a career plan already in place and you want to just get back to it. Or perhaps working within a 15 minute drive is at the top of your list. Be clear about what is right for you right now. It may be that the perfect solution isn’t available right now, you might need to develop your skills or experience in some areas or consider a compromise while you work towards your longer term plan – what is important is that you take the time to decide and make the choice that is right for you, right now.
5. You might need to take some additional training or get some support. If the role ideas you’ve come up with need some additional training you could consider booking onto a relevant skills based course through your local college or university, or check out the range of online courses now available. If it’s support with confidence or to think through your options and the steps you need to take, or help with your CV or interview prep try talking through your ideas and plans with a friend, enrol for an online personal development like Women to Work’s Work Life Discovery Coaching Workshop or book some time with a coach.
If you have any more tips or ideas that have really worked for you or your colleagues I would love to hear about them to share and continue to support and help other women looking to get back into work. In the meantime, good luck, take a breath, be brave and go for it!
Emma Shute is one of the founders of Women to Work.
Women to Work runs workshops and one to one coaching sessions in Sheffield to support women looking to return to work, change their work life or set up a business.