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Returning to work after parental leave: Helen's story

I resigned every day for the first two weeks – in my head whilst driving home from the nursery drop off. It was too hard. I didn’t want to leave my child with strangers. I couldn’t remember how to do my job. And I was still regularly having a broken night's sleep – sometimes for hours at a time. 


Returning to work after parental leave is not a straight-line trajectory. Some days I felt back in the swing of things. Others I felt completely overwhelmed and lonely. Trying to balance work alongside parent demands routinely left me feeling guilty and extremely tired. However, over a year later I look back and feel incredibly proud of the journey I went on. Here are a few principles I found helped me adjust to my new working life.

Be kind to yourself. 

A return to work won’t be smooth sailing. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that bumps on the road are because you aren’t doing something right or should be adjusting faster. At Moorhouse, we have several women in the leadership team with experience of returning from parental leave. They provided invaluable guidance on reasonable timelines and expectations to have of myself. When returning to Moorhouse, the first week back is protected time to reconnect with people, clear the inbox and practice your new work routine. Whilst my child was role-playing in his toy kitchen, I was in many ways doing role-play myself that first week. 

Make the right connections

For all intents and purposes, I was a new joiner. Moorhouse had changed dramatically from the company I left pre-pandemic. Regular checkpoints with your line manager are essential to stay aligned on your progress. Also carving out time for informal catch ups with colleagues and old clients – in my experience this was an accelerant to re-integrating.

Seek an external perspective. 

Leaving your child and returning to a company that hasn’t stopped during your absence can be emotive. Family, friends and colleagues are not always best placed to give you an objective perspective. Moorhouse provided me with a series of external coaching sessions where I could confidentially explore challenges to my return and how best to approach them. These were invaluable in setting me up for success in those first few months. 

Maintain your boundaries and don’t drift into ‘no man’s land’.

It was hard to accept my circumstances were different when I came back. I had hard stops for childcare and a flexible working arrangement that meant my diary availability didn’t mirror the majority of the company. Inevitably not everyone gets the memo that you’re back or that you may have specific working arrangements. Be transparent and consistent in communicating boundaries – using out of offices, email signatures, blocking diaries and verbal reminders in suitable meetings. Colleagues and clients have been grateful for the clarity and respectful of my non-working day.

Feed forward for the benefit of your colleagues.

My return to work had its challenges and I was able to regularly feedback on the process and potential enhancements. Moorhouse listened and actively changed its processes and policies to improve the experience for the next returner. 

 

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Helen joined Moorhouse in 2014 with previous consulting experience in process excellence and change enablement.

Helen Richardson Principal