Getting your career back on track after having a baby can be very exciting… but also surprisingly difficult for a variety of reasons. To help you out, here’s our 10 top tips for returning to work after having a baby.
If you’re a new mum who goes back to work quickly after having a baby, feelings of guilt can sometimes get in the way of a smooth return to the office.
Mums tell us that this guilt can be double edged.
You feel guilt at work because you’ve left your treasured baby in the care of somebody else, and you feel guilt at home because you’re concerned your employer might feel you’re not ‘pulling your weight’ or doing as good a job as you did before your baby was born.
The other challenge that many new mums face is that of exhaustion.
Getting up frequently during the night can really take its toll on how focussed you feel at work. So it’s TOTALLY understandable that things can sometimes be a little frazzled in the concentration department.
For mums who resume their career once the kids have all left home, a different challenge often emerges – that of confidence.
For many women, this extended time out of the workplace reduces their self belief and understanding of the capabilities that they have. It’s often harder for them to articulate the skills and abilities they have, after what often seems like a lifetime of focussing on other people.
So here are some of our top tips for getting back to work after having a baby, based on feedback and advice from our wonderful clients; we hope you find them useful.
10 top tips when returning to work after having a baby
1. Take the decision to go back to work very seriously
This might sound a bit obvious. But for many mums although the decision to go back to work seems ‘obvious’, on closer inspection it’s not the straightforward option it originally seemed.
Start with the REASON that you’re going back to work.
Financial motives are typically number one; particularly in today’s world where mortgages and living costs are often based on two incomes, or divided families result in mum (or dad) having no option but to return to work.
If financial reasons are YOUR main reason for returning, take time to do your sums to ensure you really will be better off going back to work – taking into account additional costs like childcare, travel and even the cost of buying work clothes.
Other reasons many mums choose to return to work include having ‘adult conversations’, to regain a sense of self in a world that revolves around your baby, to avoid a long career break on their CV and to feel a sense of value to avoid ‘empty nest’ syndrome.
Ask yourself what YOUR main reason is for going back to work… and check to see if there are other or better ways you could achieve the same goal. If not, then go for it – and enjoy achieving your return-to-work goals!
2. Avoid ‘The Guilts’
Making a decision to go back to work can sometimes result in a feeling that you are being judged for the decision you have taken.
Mums who return to work quickly after their baby is born tell us that they feel other people can be critical of their decision.
If you’ve made your decision objectively, perhaps by using an approach like that outlined above then you will have carefully considered your options and made a great decision.
Nobody should be allowed to make you think otherwise – so don’t let them. If however other people’s comments make you doubt the decision you’ve taken, then perhaps it’s time to revisit your decision making process to check it really was the right option to choose.
3. Create a Dream Job Plan
For example, what sort of skills would you like to use? How long would you prefer to commute? What sort of industry would you like to work in? What training and development would you like to do?
It can be helpful to refer back to jobs you’ve previously held which you really enjoyed – and then identify what would enable you to do similar work.
Once you’ve created this picture, start looking for the right opportunities. Walk around the area that’s within your commuting zone and see what businesses are located there. Go to networking events in the industry that you’d like to join or spend some time on Google to see what companies you like the look of, and why.
4. Consider a change of career
Research frequently highlights that when mums make the decision to go back to work, they often decide consciously to get out of careers that are notorious for long hours or inflexibility and into more ‘family-friendly’ organisations.
A great place to look for this sort of role in New Zealand is the JRA/Best Places to Work survey.
These organisations have been voted into the list by the employees that work there, as being flexible, fun, and just a great place to work. Most countries have a similar national survey – so look it up on the internet and start searching for opportunities in workplaces that will truly value you.
Alternatively, talk to other mums about where and how they identified work opportunities that also fit with their lifestyle – this could be a great opportunity to align a new job with your new lifestyle, and remember if things don’t work out you can always try something else instead.
5. Update your CV
Whether you’re going back to work soon after having a baby or whether there’s a longer break on your CV you will still have gained new skills.
Clients that we’ve worked with have tackled this in a variety of ways – some choosing to specify their time as ‘Mum’ as a REAL JOB, highlighting key achievements like successful resolution of conflict, impressive time management skills and amazing organisational capabilities.
Consider working with a friend or professional career coach to explore what skills you’ve gained – here are a few more ideas; flexible thinking (you were going to wear one outfit for work, but baby threw up so now you have to change), forward planning (you’re leaving the house for the day with a baby and a toddler, so you have to think ahead and consider many eventualities!) and influential decision making (you’ve a house full of teenagers that you need to persuade to take action!).
6. Refresh your thinking
Make sure that no matter how long you’ve been out of the workforce, your ideas and skills are as current as they can be.
Check that you’ve updated your computing skills and consider exploring places like Computing for Free ￼for courses or other local adult learning programmes. Often schools have adult learning courses during the year that are very reasonably priced, so find out what is held near you and sign up!
If you’re a member of a professional body, consider going along to attend a couple of meetings before starting back to work so that you’re familiar with the latest thinking and jargon in your area of specialty. You might even meet new people at these events who can help you in your job search.
7. Find a ‘mum mentor’
Consider whether you know a mum that’s made the transition successfully back to work in the sort of role or industry that you want to work in.
Often prenatal classes and toddler groups can result in new friendships and contacts so ask around and see if there’s anybody who has trodden the path before you who could share their hints and tips (and possibly even their contacts).
8. Do a practice run
Once you’ve accepted a job offer and sorted out childcare, spend a couple of days practicing the tasks and responsibilities that will become your new routine.
There can be nothing worse than arriving on your first day in a new job, already stressed because your child didn’t want to go with the babysitter, the nanny let you down at the last minute, or you only had one ironed work shirt and the baby threw up on you as you were saying goodbye.
Give it a go for a couple of days to check that everything runs as smoothly as possible – then you’re ready to get back to work in the right frame of mind!
9. Outsource Everything
We’ve found that for many first time mums, there can be a reluctance to relinquish ownership of many of the tasks that they had before baby came along.
So we hear stories of women who are constantly fighting a battle to achieve everything and who are absolutely exhausted. If you have a small baby and have returned to work then your priorities really are to eat and sleep in your ‘spare time’.
Look at all the chores you did before baby came along and work out whether you can afford to hire somebody to help you out – a cleaner to keep the house tidy, a gardener to mow the lawns, somebody to do the ironing.
If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, then agree to divide the household chores with your partner, or friends and family who can help out. Try online grocery shopping options. Just make sure you’re not hanging onto everything.
10. Be realistic
In the real world, children are unexpectedly sick… in the real world child minders let us down… and in the real world, other employees who don’t have children can sometimes be a teeny bit resentful.
Rightly or wrongly, sometimes there can be some tension between those who do and don’t have children at work.
Those without children sometimes begrudge fellow employees who call for the third day in a row to say that ‘Little Johnny’ has been sick again and they won’t be in until late – and you can kind of see their point especially if they have to pick up the slack.
Make sure that as far as possible you have a back-up plan for when things don’t work out. As a small child, I was part of a ‘club’ my parents joined. If they weren’t able to collect me from school another member of the club would pick me up instead. For security reasons all the children had a password so there wasn’t any danger of a stranger collecting us, but it gave peace of mind to my parents that they had a Plan B. Ask yourself what could go wrong – and put a plan in place to deal with it if it happens.
If you have additional tips, we would love to hear about them to help support other women heading back to work after having a baby or raising a family.
We’ve found some great websites in New Zealand for mums returning to work so make sure that you check these out as soon as you can:
The Ranstad Awards for Best New Zealand workplaces.
Stay at Home Mum (SAHM) has some great ideas for returning to work.
Try searching a job search site like Seek for Jobs with School Hours.
For more expert advice on saving money, cutting household bills and managing debt, check out our Grown Ups: Family finances section.