How to protect your career whilst on and after maternity leave

I think this comes down to how you manage your maternity leave or paternity leave (this is an important topic for Dads too).

A recent survey found men who took more than two weeks’ paternity leave were subject to ridicule and worried about damaging their careers. Women still earn on average 13.9% less than men, and many families simply can’t afford to substitute the father’s wage for £140.98 per week shared parental pay. Furthermore Deloitte’s Parental Leave Survey of 1,000 U.S. workers revealed that more than half of men and women (54%) felt that parental leave would be perceived as a lack of job commitment. Fortune (2017)

There is a huge temptation to think, now I’m off to look after a new baby and go into a black hole. That is fine of course as you never get this precious time back. However, if you are still very much looking to climb the career ladder and plan to take a long leave cutting off all contact may interfere with your career goals.

We’ve put together some helpful advice to help you protect your career whilst on maternity or paternity leave

1. Keep In Touch 

We can’t shout about this enough. Keeping In touch days are gold. They are powerful in reminding your team and managers that you are still very much present, engaged and keen to know what is happening in the business. Also, it sends a strong message that your career is important to you despite a big life change. You can also use these days to re communicate and establish your career goals to your manager and any important stakeholders.

These days and how you manage them are totally down to you. The law is there to protect you from being unnecessarily bothered during your leave. Manage them as best as you see fit, for you, your family and your career.

 

2. Make a document of all your responsibilities before going on leave that you can refer to when discussing your return and agree them with your manager

One question that we get asked a lot is: “Can I return to my old job after maternity leave?”

The answer depends on how long you have off for maternity leave. If you have six months or less otherwise known as ordinary maternity leave. You have you have the right to return to your old job on the same terms and conditions.

If you have more than six months otherwise known as additional leave. You have the right to return to your previous job on the same terms and conditions except it is “not reasonably practicable” to do so, in which case your employer must offer you a suitable alternative job on comparable terms and conditions.  

If your old job still exists but you are only offered an alternative, please seek advice.

So why document all your responsibilities?

This is so that you can manage expectations about what you should be returning to.  It can be used as a useful guide as you navigate your career and returning to work.

3. Manage expectations and create boundaries

Are you heading for a promotion? Do you have your eyes set on more responsibility? Have your circumstances changed since having a child? Be open with your employers, manage their expectations and your own as much as possible. Businesses dislike surprises as it doesn’t allow them to plan, of course some things are out of your control but try to manage expectations as best as possible.

Related this you will probably also need to create boundaries. You may need to adjust your hours for pick up or work from home to give you more productive work time. Discuss what flexibility you require to be the best at your role and manage expectations about what can be achieved in that time. Read our guide of how to request flexible working and we have a piece on how not to as well.

4. Create a solution 

Very often rightly or wrongly employers see parental leave as a problem. Be the solution, create a plan of who could cover your role, or a plan of who could take on aspects of your role. What training will have to be delivered before you go on leave? Who will deliver the training ? If it is you, when can you deliver that training? Being proactive and pragmatic about the business in your absence will stand you in good stead for someone who has managed their leave positively and will gain favour in the eyes of any employer.

5. Be your own PR Manager  

Take your return as an opportunity to re-engage with key stakeholders and remind them of your achievements prior to your leave and anything that you may have accomplished whilst you were away from the business. Parental leave is a time of great change and many parents become more focussed, more ambitious and more empathetic to others. Also use this time as an opportunity to reinforce your commitment and engagement to your team, role and the company.

6. Arrange child care early on

If you know you are heading back to work, make child care arrangements well ahead of time. The last thing you want to be doing is worrying about confirming childcare so close to a return date. They key to nailing your career ambitions as a parent is good child care that you are confident in. It is a huge weight off your shoulders and allows to focus on your career goals knowing your children are in good hands.

7. Check your policy

Your policy may have provisions that cover your role and the implications around parental leave. Know your policy and ask for clarification from HR regarding anything you are unsure about.

 

Sandy Smith: President of Smith Publicity – “Luckily for me, it did not impact my career or opportunities at the job I had. I went back and was even offered additional responsibility and opportunities soon after returning. My job and boss were exactly the same in terms of support and how I was treated.”

 

So there you have it. Parental leave is a wonderful opportunity and if managed well you can maintain and protect your career.