Returning to work after maternity leave: planning and preparation tips

By Robert Half on 16th October 2019

Returning to work after maternity leave can feel daunting, to say the least. With a little forward planning, that first day back should feel more manageable and will be the first step back into your career again. 

Let us take you through the paperwork and then, more importantly, the focus on your return and how you want to approach this. 

Ending your maternity leave

Your maternity leave entitlement is 52 weeks, which is split into two sections: Ordinary Maternity Leave (the first 26 weeks) and Additional Maternity Leave (the last 26 weeks). Your employer will assume you’re planning to take the full 52 weeks’ leave, so if you’d like to return early, you’ll need to give 8 weeks’ notice. Preparing to go back to work after maternity leave will require your workplace to be clear about maternity leave entitlement.

Return to work interview and paperwork

On your first week back, you’ll need to provide your employer with some return to work forms. Just as you provided a letter stating your intent to leave the business you will also need to write a returning to work letter after maternity leave. It should reference the leaving date on your original letter and state the date you hope to return to your position. 

Your employer should also be planning to revisit health and safety at work and any new issues which might need addressing due to your status as a new mother. As you go back to work after maternity leave, be sure to bring any new medical documents and childcare details in case of emergencies. 

How to plan a phased return to work after maternity leave

In our five-step approach we’ve sourced advice and support from Robert Half professionals on their return to work process after maternity leave and the tips they would give to those going back to work after maternity leave.

1. Trial your new routine
Begin to integrate a ‘business day’ structure back into your daily routine before it’s needed. Practicing your new morning routine around work and your new arrival will help make the change feel easier and will also give you a sense of how much time you’ll need each morning.  
Julia Stuchfield, Operational Reporting Specialist at Robert Half says, “Be prepared for a couple of months of transition, it will take both you and your little one time to settle into your new routine.” One of the tips she gives on making the transition back to work is on organisation at home: “Get organised if you can – before you return to work stock the freezer with pre-prepared meals that are easy to cook once you get home!  You will be especially tired in the first few weeks and cooking will probably be one of the last things you want to do!”

2. Plan a mid-week start
Launching into a full 5-day working week can feel very different after months spent at home. It may work for some while for others it may be easier to plan mid-week return. If you happen to move residence during your time off make sure to work out the logistics of your new commute and ensure your employer is aware of this so you can foresee and plan around any potential issues that may arise. Ease yourself back into the swing of things, making your phased return to work after maternity leave more comfortable and safer in the knowledge that respite isn’t far off!

3. Organise contacts and contingency plans
Going back to work after maternity leave should be an easy transition but when things don’t go to plan it’s important to have set a plan for those days. Caroline Morvan, Internal Communications Manager, explains that new parents should look into childcare that works for them before starting work as it can be difficult to organise. She says’ “Make sure the policy for taking time off is clear and if not always double check this with your manager. If you end up feeling differently about your hours on your return to work, it’s important to be upfront about this. Your manager and the company should be supportive of any changes and it’s good to check how flexible they are willing to be.”

4. Catch up before you go back
By planning to catch up with a colleague or your manager you can prepare yourself for new faces, new processes, social news and anything you might have missed when returning to work after maternity leave. 
Shelley Crane, Senior Recruiting Manager, says, “Spend some 1-on-1 time with your manager or the department head during your maternity leave to talk about how you want to return to work, your hours and your career progression. Make sure you are vocal about your worries when returning or even when you have returned.”
During this meeting it’s good to discuss any work arrangements that may change while you are away such as management changes. Being kept in the loop will help prepare you for what to expect when you return to the office. 

Read more on career development

5. Your next move
Given the above advice there are a number of ways you can approach returning to work after maternity leave. What’s clear is that it all comes down to what your needs are as a new parent and going easy on yourself. Caroline says, “It’s always good to be open and honest with your team about the struggles you may face as a new parent. Don’t assume that everyone understands what it means to have a family!”. When going back to work after maternity leave it may take time to pick up where you left off professionally, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Shelley says, “Ask yourself whether your childcare plan aligns with your career goals? It’s important to be realistic and understanding of what you want to achieve both at work and at home.” Most importantly as a new parent you should never feel alone. Julia says, “It’s good to connect with other parents in the company and get their tips and advice on how to handle returning to work after parental leave.” Conversations with other parents will help to normalise everything your experiencing so you can enjoy your time off and your return to work after maternity leave.

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