Returning to work after maternity leave can be both an exciting and challenging time for new mothers. Balancing the responsibilities of motherhood with your professional aspirations can feel overwhelming, but with the proper support and preparation, this difficult transition can be made smoother. This blog post aims to guide new mothers through the process of returning to work after maternity leave in the UK, providing essential information and helpful tips.
Understanding Maternity Leave in the UK
The UK has laws in place to protect the rights of employees who take maternity leave. Eligible employees are entitled to take up to 52 weeks of leave, consisting of 26 weeks ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave. Statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance (39 weeks leave) may be available during this time, subject to certain conditions. It is crucial to understand your rights, which can be found on the government’s official website, or you can find helpful information at https://maternityaction.org.uk to learn more about your rights during maternity leave and your return to work.
Preparing for Your Return to Work
Maintain open lines of communication with your employer during maternity leave. It's important that you update them on your plans to return to work and any changes in your circumstances. This will ensure a smooth transition and help your employer make the necessary arrangements for your return.
You must tell your employer at least eight weeks before you're due to return to work if you want to:
- stay on maternity leave longer than planned
- return to work sooner than planned
Consider discussing flexible working options with your employer, such as part-time hours, job-sharing, or remote work. The right to request flexible working is available to eligible employees, and it can provide a better work-life balance as you transition back into work.
By law, you have the right to make a flexible working request if:
- you've worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks
- you're legally classed as an employee
- you've not made any other flexible working request in the last 12 months
If you have the right to request, your employer must:
- look at your request fairly
- make a decision within a maximum of 3 months
Some employers will allow you to make a request even if you do not have the legal right – check your workplace's policy.
You will need to make suitable childcare arrangements well in advance. Research local nurseries, childminders, or family support networks to find the most suitable option for your needs. Some points to consider when choosing a day-care nursery setting are:
- What is the adult-to-child ratio?
- Do they have flexible schedules and routines?
- What is their behaviour policy?
- Do the staff seem nurturing?
- What is their settling-in policy?
- What is your initial reaction to the setting? Can you see your child being happy there?
After a break from working, it’s common to experience a lack of confidence in your professional abilities. Seek support from friends, family or professional networks to rebuild your self-assurance, as this is a massive change in your life. Consider attending networking events or professional development courses to reconnect to your industry.
Returning to the Workplace
Negotiate a phased return with your employer, allowing you to ease back into your role gradually. This could involve working part-time initially or reduced hours for the first few weeks to help you readjust
Update Your Skills
Depending on the length of your maternity leave, there may have been changes in your industry. Take time to update your skills and knowledge through online courses, workshops, or seminars which can be provided by your workplace. This will help you to feel confident in your job and regain your professional edge.
Set clear boundaries between work and personal life. Define your working hours and communicate them to your colleagues so they are not contacting you outside of this specified time frame. This ensures you have time to care for your child and enjoy a balanced lifestyle.
Connect with other working mothers who have been through a similar experience. They can offer valuable advice and support. Consider joining online communities or local groups or seeking professional guidance to help you with the challenges you may encounter when returning to work.
Some groups to consider are:
- https://mumsmeetup.com, which connects mums locally through the UK.
- https://workingmomkind.com is a global community to support working mums around the world
- Facebook has many local groups that you can join to find support
Returning to work after maternity leave can be an enriching and rewarding experience. By understanding your rights, preparing in advance, and adopting strategies for a smooth transition, you can successfully balance the demands of work and motherhood. It’s natural to face challenges along the way, but with patience, self-care and support, you’ll be able to thrive in both your personal and professional life.