Advice for a Smooth Return to Work after Maternity Leave

Childcare sorted? Check. Return to work plan agreed? Check. Desperate to abandon my newly acquired baby voice and engage my brain again? Abso-bloody-lutely check. Sense of calm and wellbeing? Not so much.

Getting back to work after maternity leave is ALL the emotions, ranging from distress to elation. Couple that with a return to the workplace* during a pandemic and surely no one can blame me for feeling somewhat daunted.
(*makeshift office at home.)

I’ve just returned from my second mat leave, and I’m not sure I mastered the first return, but then again, self-doubt is just one of the unfortunate emotions that seems to attach itself to a parent heading back to the workplace.

To help instill some confidence and provide useful insight for anyone else taking the leap out of sick-stained elasticated loungewear, I’ve canvassed advice from some of my esteemed colleagues here in London. Here are some top tips for a smooth transition back to work after babydom.

1. Accept the dizziness.

The transition from life at home with your first, second or more is likely to feel like a re-entry into another world if you’ve had quite a bit of time away. Astronauts are trained to deal with how re-entry makes them feel, mums aren’t. I found myself forgetting names, unable to sit still for long, desperately looking for familiarities that weren’t there a year on after No. 1. For the first few weeks it made me feel quite dizzy, outwardly and inwardly. Just know that this will pass really quickly, and three or four weeks in you’ll have your feet firmly on the ground.”
—Helen Chapman, Head of Strategy

2. Be kind to yourself

“Adjusting from life as a full-time mum to life as a full-time mum + career is challenging. It’s the ultimate juggling act. So be kind, give yourself time to adjust, and know that some days will be utter chaos. Especially in a time when every sniffle from your child requires a 10-mile round trip to a COVID testing centre before they’re allowed back into nursery.”
—Clare Moggridge, Practice Director, Consumer Brands

“I’ve spoken to a few returning mums, and a common theme is crisis of confidence. I have no idea why we put so much pressure on ourselves, but I know that in returning to work so many feel a need to re-prove or over-prove themselves. This is possibly due to outdated/inaccurate tropes about women’s brains going to mush when out of the workplace or the feeling that you may have lost your touch, when clearly this is just bollocks. Remember, you have nothing to prove. Wear your working mum badge with pride. As a working mum with so many more life skills, you now bring even more to the table.”
Leah Selouk, Director, Corporate reputation

3. Set boundaries and stick to them. 

Leave loudly! Don’t make excuses about why you are starting the day later or finishing earlier if it is for your kids. Be proud of being a great working parent.”
—Jo-ann Robertson, Partner and CEO.   

“When I joined Ketchum, I doubled the length of my daily commute. I had two little people under the age of 2.5 and at least 3 hours of travelling a day. But I decided to commit to always being back for bath time. That meant working on the train and limited lunchbreaks, but I was determined to stick to it. I made it about 90% of the time (and the misses were more because of South West Rail rather my poor time management). So my advice is this: Set your boundaries and stick to them. It isn’t easy—there are always meetings, client calls and events to attend, but try to be consistent, and don’t apologise for it to anyone.”
—James Coyle, MD Client Experience.

I remember I was so afraid of letting everyone down and found it hard to say no. I stayed up late most evenings catching up on work, and life unsurprisingly spiralled out of control before my eyes. So I started to stay no at work—a piece of advice from an old colleague. A bold move, but it was the best decision I ever made to restore my sanity and enable me to deliver at work and home.”
Tina Barratt, Associate Director, Consumer Brands.

Accept there’s no such thing as a work/life balance. You have one life, you just have to turn the volume on ‘work’ or ‘life’ up or down as you go. This will help you take control of the 24 hours in your day and ensure that you prioritise your time and energies without unnecessary sacrifices.”
—Alicia Solanki, Deputy MD, Consumer Brands

Sophie is Managing Director, Consumer Brands of Ketchum London. She has 15 years+ experience developing and delivering award-winning strategic and creative campaigns for global brands as well as innovative startups.