Maternity leave return: The 3 conversations to set you up for success

Posted by Avanti Women Mar 14, 2018

Motherhood changes you. Life changes you. So much has happened from your last day in the office. Your perspective has changed. Your priorities have shifted. You‰Ûªve already seen how it has changed so many things in your life. When you get back to work, you‰Ûªll discover new ways it has changed you. From the way you work to when you work to how you work with others.


But, it‰Ûªs not just you that has changed. 

Life may have changed for your manager and your colleagues. They, too, may be different. Your company may have undergone changes. So there may be changes that you‰Ûªll need to uncover.  

What‰Ûªs more, the people you work with may see you differently now that you‰Ûªre a parent and they may treat you differently. And, some may treat you as if you simply went on an extended holiday.  

Well-intentioned or not, their treatment of you is likely the result of the  unconscious biases that play in the background of their lives. Much of which you can‰Ûªt predict.

However, if you engage in three key conversations before your first day in the office, you may be able to shift some of the effects in your favor.  

Your company‰Ûªs HR representative


Your HR representative can be a wealth of information for you. They‰Ûªve likely onboarded other new parents coming back to work after having a baby, so take time to speak with them.  

Possible questions to discuss could be:  

  • What do I have to do to make sure I can get working on my first day (e.g., how do I reconnect technology; will my security badge work)?
  • Will I have to re-enroll in my benefits package? How can I enrol my baby onto my program?
  • As a new parent, will I need to update any other company policies (insurance, retirement program, etc)?
  • Where can I privately and safely pump in the office?

In addition to these operational details, take the time to learn about any supportive programs available to you as a new parent. This could be work mobility, flexible work arrangements, access to parenting support groups, eligibility for coaching programs and more.


Learn how these programs work, eligibility for them and how others have benefited from them. It‰Ûªs also a good idea to understand the process to enrol.


Even if you have no intention to use these programs today, take the time to know what is available. None of us knows what the future holds for us.


Colleagues and others you trust at work


Before heading back into the office, you‰Ûªll want to get a good handle on what you‰Ûªll be walking back into. And, you‰Ûªll need an honest, less biased version of the facts. So, be sure to connect with trusted colleagues or mentors before resuming work.


This can be a catch up over the phone, but you may have more success getting the real goods by heading over for an off-site, baby-free coffee or lunch date.


As much as your friend will want to hear about your baby, make sure to use your time together to get a real pulse on what has been happening on your team and at your company during your absence.


Areas you‰Ûªll want to investigate could include:


  • Personnel changes: Who‰Ûªs left and who‰Ûªs come in? And, what has been the impact of those changes? 
  • Scope or budget changes: Have budgets grown or been slashed? Is your team now focused on a key project? Get to know what has changed at a high level on your team as it relates to your remit or responsibilities, and what‰Ûªs been the impact so far.
  • Strategic shifts: Has the company adopted a new strategy? Have they launched a new vision? Or have they announced a new product? Learn more about how the company may have shifted during your absence and get your colleagues take on what this means for you and your team.
  • Employee sentiment: How is your colleague feeling about the company? What‰Ûªs the general sentiment? Are people feeling optimistic or has something happened that people are worried? You won‰Ûªt be able to do anything about this, but it‰Ûªs always good to have a general sense of how others are feeling.


With the latest information, you can begin to prepare for the changes awaiting you at work. One word of caution: try to meet with more than one colleague. This way you can get a more balanced view of what‰Ûªs been going on.


Your manager


Becoming a working mom demands you work smarter, not harder. Your manager can help. Schedule a meeting with your manager. An out-of-office, informal coffee date may offer less distractions. But, you can also meet in your manager‰Ûªs office or speak over the phone, too.


Take time to get your manager‰Ûªs perspective on any key changes that have happened while you were out. You may want to use some of the same questions you asked your colleagues (see the section above).


The purpose of the meeting is to get a clearer sense of your priorities, so you can be sure to focus on what matters most to your manager and your team.


Some topics to cover are:


  • Your role: If you‰Ûªre returning to the same role, be sure to discuss priorities and measures of success for the coming year. You‰Ûªll also want to clearly ask if they foresee any changes in your job. If there are changes, take the time to fully discuss them, understanding the changes specifically, why they are happening and what will be expected of you.  
  • Your contribution: To make the very best use of your time when you return, take time to understand where your manager thinks you can best contribute to the team‰Ûªs success. This isn‰Ûªt the time to commit to any projects that are in addition to your job. Instead, take the time to discuss your manager‰Ûªs priorities and upcoming opportunities or challenges he sees on the horizon.


This is a good time to begin to set expectations with your manager. Much of the unconscious bias that penalizes new mothers at work is a result of personal assumptions made by managers. Even those based on the very best of intentions can work against you and limit your career progression.


To help curb some of this bias, you may want to discuss these topics:


  • Your career prospect: Clearly let your manager know how you hope your career will progress over the next year. This could be taking on challenging projects, a promotion or a pay rise. It could also be your intention to scale back as you adjust to working motherhood. Whatever you‰Ûªre looking forward to, use this time to set your intention and begin the conversation on how your managers thinks you‰Ûªll be able to get there.


  • Childcare decisions: Your childcare decision could impact your working hours, so discuss what those may be. If you don‰Ûªt foresee any changes, make that clear. However, if you have to leave the office by a set time, say so. You may also want to prepare your manager how you‰Ûªll handle your little one getting sick, doctor appointments and other baby-related events that could pull you out of the office.


  • Changes to your schedule: How you handle this conversation will depend on a number of factors, including your company‰Ûªs policies and culture, your relationship with your manager and how far you are in making your decision. You may be prepared to inform them of your schedule changes or perhaps you‰Ûªre looking to gauge how they feel about certain scenarios before making a decision. Either way, be sure to arm yourself with information ahead of time and take care in how you approach the matter.


How open your conversations will be will depend on what you are comfortable sharing and what your company‰Ûªs culture allows. It will require balance and tact, which isn‰Ûªt always easy. However, being prepared for what lies ahead and starting to plant the seeds that could curb unconscious bias will serve you well further down the road.


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