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All of our centres are fully open for in centre study and exams. Distance Learning (home study) courses are still available.

A Mum's Guide to Returning to Work

01/10/21

Going back to work after a break can be daunting at the best of times. However, as a new mum who has taken time away from work to raise a family, chances are you’ll be feeling a whole range of mixed emotions about your imminent return to the office.

It’s not just that you’ve been out of the loop for weeks, months or, in some cases, years, you’re returning to your old life with a whole new set of priorities, hopes and concerns. For mums who have just had a baby, you may also be dealing with health problems as a consequence of childbirth, making a return to work all that more nerve wracking.

In this guide, we’ve put together some simple and easy-to-apply suggestions for new parents returning to work which address all of the nagging doubts, fears and anxieties which may have manifested while you’ve been away.

We’ll also take a look at what options are available for you to refresh your skills or retrain in a new career, and provide practical advice that’ll boost your confidence during the job application and interview phases of your job search. Finally, you’ll find tips and tricks throughout this post to help you manage your new work-life balance without feeling overloaded or overwhelmed.

In this article

By the end, you’ll have the confidence to embrace both your role as a working parent and as a highly valued member of the team.  

Let’s get started!

mum searching for jobs on a laptop

1. Preparing to go back to work

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a rough ride, and one that’ll no doubt be rife with mixed emotions. One minute you’re exhilarated at the thought of getting back to a career, job or colleagues you love, the next you’re consumed with guilt about being separated from your child for the first time. 

However, despite the emotional rollercoaster that a return to work can bring about, there are a number of effective ways you can prepare for this upcoming life change and ease potential anxiety.

We’ve put together some simple steps you can take right now to make this transition from stay-at-home mum to happy employee as smooth as possible, for both you and your family.

Stay informed

Before you’ve even started to think about an exact date for returning to work, staying up to date with developments in your field, as well as in your particular place of employment will make it a much easier transition when you do. Here are some simple ways to stay in the loop while you’re still on maternity leave: 

  • Stay in contact with old colleagues. Inviting a close work friend round for a coffee is an opportunity to find out what has changed at work while you’ve been away, from new processes and tools on your team, to management changes and new hires.
  • Align with your boss. If you’re planning to take up your old position, it’s definitely worth getting in touch with your boss well in advance of organising your return to work. Aligning expectations on both sides, discussing your needs and how they have changed, as well as what positions may have shifted or evolved in your old team will mean everyone is on the same page when you do start back, and give you a chance to air any fears or worries while there is still plenty of time to address them.
  • Keep abreast of industry changes. Although you may only have been away for a matter of weeks or months, a lot can change in a short space of time. Try to stay at the top of your game by browsing relevant industry blogs on sites like Medium, or listening to podcasts with experts in your field. You may also be able to try out new tools while you’re still at home, so you won’t feel like you’re starting from scratch on your first day back in the office.
  • Sign up to newsletters. If you haven’t already, sign up to your company’s newsletter to get regular business updates with minimum effort. If you’re unsure about returning to the same job after maternity leave, sign up to company newsletters from organisations which you are interested in and be the first to know when a new vacancy opens up.

Adjust your mindset

mum happoly holding baby in the airWith such a big life change ahead, it’s important to start slowly adjusting your mindset to what’s around the corner, both professionally and personally, before taking any practical steps towards returning to your old job or finding a new one.

An effective method for changing a personal outlook is by altering how we talk about ourselves, both in our heads and to others. By using positive language to describe ourselves and what we do for a living we can mentally prepare for the transition from home to working life more effectively, and keep roadblocks like imposter syndrome at bay.

Techniques to practice might include talking about yourself as a professional, rather than as a mum, as well as discussing your career and work with friends. The sooner you’re able to begin introducing this shift into your home life, the more confident you’ll be when you do decide it’s time to go back to work. 

If you’re thinking about applying for a new job after your maternity leave ends, talking about work, your field, your goals and professional interests to your partner, friends and family (or to yourself!) will also be great practice for speaking to potential employers in the context of a job interview. You’ll be more at ease with work-related terminology, and be able to demonstrate confidence when discussing your skills in a professional context.

Prepare loved ones

mum nuzzling her son

With so much to organise before returning to work after having a baby, it can be easy to forget that you’re not the only one who has big changes ahead when your new routine starts. Your partner, other caregivers, as well as your new baby will all have to adjust to your return to working life.

Luckily, there are lots of ways you can start preparing your family for this upcoming change while you’re still on maternity leave. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Plan your childcare early

Try to have your childcare planned well in advance of going back to work, even before the baby is born if possible. There are frequently waiting lists for child care services and nurseries so the earlier you start looking, the higher the likelihood of finding available childcare that feels right for you and your child. Knowing your son or daughter is in the best hands allows you more mental energy to focus on your job when you’re back at your desk.

Discuss childcare expectations in advance

If a family member will be responsible for your child while you are working, discuss with them exactly what you are hoping for and expect from the arrangement. Outline your routine in as much detail as you can and, before your start date, arrange to have at least one ‘dry run’. Afterwards you can troubleshoot any issues before you do it for real. 

Arrange a back-up

Make sure you have an emergency childcare contact in case your regular provider is unavailable. You might consider asking friends who are also parents, close neighbours, grandparents, your siblings, and your partner’s family. Organising this now will considerably reduce your stress if and when you do need help at short notice.

Start the new routine before you go back

Whether you and your partner need to shift roles and responsibilities within the home, or you need to learn the route from the childminder’s to the office, it’s a good idea to establish your new routine before you start back at work. Starting one or two weeks early (or earlier!) will give you and your family some adjustment time before you start work as well as giving you a chance to align expectations and troubleshoot issues well in advance.

mum writing in her note book

2. Stay in your old job, or build a new career?

Is the thought of going back to your old job getting you excited, or filling you with dread? Whether you can’t wait to return to the job you had before having a child, or you feel like now is the time to try out something completely different, it’s worth using this time to consider your goals and needs in light of your new responsibilities and routine.

In this section, we’ll be running through your employment rights, taking a look at prioritising your goals and needs, and outlining options for polishing your skillset or retraining in a new field.

Know your employment rights

A good place to start when thinking about going back to work after maternity leave is knowing exactly where you stand legally. If you’re in the UK and returning to employment after 26 weeks or less, you’re entitled to return to the same job you had when you left.

The only exception to this rule is if your employer has a good business reason for not allowing this, e.g.: if the company has been restructured while you were on leave and some positions were no longer deemed necessary. However, if that’s the case your employer is then required to offer you an alternative job with the same terms and conditions as your previous position.

Reflect on your goals

You may have found that your goals have shifted since taking time off to have a child. Whether maternity leave has brought the realisation that you’re not satisfied with your current career path, that you’d like to work part-time or freelance, or that you’d simply like to earn more money, it’s helpful to write a list of your priorities and goals before making any big decisions.

Try to focus on the things that have brought you joy or fulfilment in the time you’ve been away from your job. You may find that, rather than simply going back to your old company, now might be the perfect time to start looking for a new position, or to take the time to learn skills that align more closely with your goals now that you are a parent.

Things to consider might include:

  • Working fewer hours to have more time at home
  • Finding a role that allows you to pursue your passions
  • Having a shorter commute to work, or a remote working position
  • Building a career that you’ll find more stimulating or fulfilling
  • Learning new skills or refreshing your current skill set
  • Moving to a different team within your current company
  • Taking on more or fewer responsibilities
  • Earning more money, or enjoying more perks
  • Taking on a more managerial role
  • Going freelance or starting your own business

To refresh or retrain?

mum studying for new job

Studies have found that almost two thirds of mums are interested in retraining in something new, with 58% of those surveyed citing a desire to set up their own business as the core reason.

If you’re dreading the thought of going back to your old company or position and have decided it’s time for a change, there are a host of flexible, affordable study options available to new parents who wish to refresh their skillsets or learn about a new field.

Thanks to the rise in part-time, flexi, online and hybrid learning models which offer an alternative to the more traditional, fully offline classroom learning model, you are guaranteed to find a study option that fits around you and your family.

Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits of in-person learning, online learning and blended learning.

In-person learning

When we think of going back into education a bit later in life, the traditional classroom is usually what springs to mind. In the UK, many colleges and higher education establishments offer adult evening classes or part-time daytime courses, as well as full-time courses for those who can fully immerse themselves in nine-to-five learning.

There are numerous benefits to learning in a physical classroom which are worth considering when deciding which educational route is the right one for you:

  • Fewer distractions and demands on your time than if you were learning at home
  • You’ll have the chance to dig deeper into the stories and experiences of your fellow students, as well as your teacher, in a real-world context
  • Completion rates for teacher-led, in-classroom courses are typically 5x higher than their online equivalents
  • You’ll have the chance to meet new people, make friends, and form study groups with your fellow students
  • Talking to others face-to-face often provides greater clarity and understanding than when conducting the same conversation via texting or email
  • A real life learning setting can be a positive boost to your mental health as in-person friendships and connections can greatly reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Discussions flow more easily in a real-life setting

Online learning

adult students studying
Online learning has seen a boom in recent years and, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, these days studying online has become very much the norm for students all over the world.

The good news for potential students is that, thanks to the high volume of in-person classroom closures, many courses which were previously only available offline are now available remotely.

This can offer new mums in particular a level of flexibility that a traditional classroom setting is unable to.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of retraining online:

  • You can study from home, or wherever is most convenient for you
  • Self-paced learning and schedule flexibility come as standard
  • Overall costs tend to be lower, as travel and parking are no longer required
  • You’ll have access to course materials 24/7
  • Many courses offer mentorship programs or personal tuition
  • You’re not limited to the courses on offer locally

Blended learning

Blended learning combines aspects of both online and in-person methodologies, ensuring students have the flexibility of online courses without missing out on the student camaraderie and face-to-face interactions that power a successful course outcome.

Here’s a rundown of the benefits of this approach:

  • You’ll have the opportunity to engage with the class in the environment that you feel most comfortable in, be that online or in-person
  • How you receive your education will be varied, and therefore more stimulating
  • You’ll have more autonomy over how you learn
  • Course accessibility will never be a problem
  • Studies have found that student engagement is higher when taking a course that offers blended learning

mum interviewing for a new job

3. Job hunting, application and interview advice for new mums

Starting the search for a new job at any time in life is no easy feat, but for a new mum who is hoping to transition from maternity leave back to the office after a long break, this next step can feel fraught with practical, emotional and professional hurdles. You may find that, along with the standard insecurities we all feel when applying for new jobs, you’ve got some new and very legitimate worries related to your new status as a parent.

In this section, we’ll be showing you how with some simple preparation you can put these worries to one side and concentrate instead on demonstrating why you’re the best person for the job.

Let’s take a look at the best job search, application and interview preparation for stay at home mums.

Training

As we’ve already mentioned, a course is a great way to update your knowledge and brush up your skills, but it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate your intentions to potential employers at the job application or interview stage. A course will also boost your confidence and give you something to put in the gap on your CV from when you were raising your family.

CV overhaul

Your CV may need some updating if you’ve been away from paid employment for a while, but that doesn’t mean you have nothing to add to it. Aside from a course or training, make sure to add the relevant skills and experience you gained while raising your child, such as involvement in nursery groups, time management, working under pressure and budgeting. These are all transferable skills that are valuable to any prospective employer.

Update your social media

4 adult frineds  all on social mediaDon’t underestimate the power of social media in helping you find a job. LinkedIn is a great platform for showcasing your skills and experience, researching companies and finding job vacancies. As of this year, more than 90% of recruiters search for candidates on LinkedIn to fill company job openings, so it’s important that your profile is showcasing your best work.

If you have social media profiles that you’re using for more personal sharing, consider switching your settings to private. It’s pretty much guaranteed that potential employers will do a quick scan of all your public content to check your suitability for a role before requesting an interview.

Networking

Whether you do it online or in person, building a network of professional contacts will be a huge help when launching your new career, or looking for a new position. Why? Because networking is the quickest way to hear about job leads and, more often than not, you’ll hear about a vacancy through your network before it’s been officially announced, giving you a significant advantage over other candidates.

Building a large professional network takes time, but there are lots of simple steps you can take while you’re still on maternity leave to get the ball rolling.

  • Let your friends and family know your intention to find a new job; they may know someone in your field they can introduce you to
  • Talk to other parents at your baby’s play group and be open about your job search
  • If you can, attend meetups for professionals in your area or on Zoom.
  • Contact former colleagues; they may have moved on to companies which are looking for candidates with your skillset

Dealing with difficult interview questions

One of the most nerve-wracking aspects of re-entering the job market after a break is the interview phase. While you should seriously congratulate yourself on landing an interview, for many new mums the thought of answering potentially personal questions about time-management with a child, or how they’ve spent their ‘career break’ can be a cause of extreme anxiety in the lead up to that one hour sit down with the hiring team or company boss.

Rest assured that most good hiring managers will do everything they can to make you feel as comfortable as possible, fully aware of the difficult transition you’re embarking on. However, even though most of your worries are likely to be unfounded, it’s still a good idea to prepare yourself for less sensitive questions so when the real thing comes around you will know that you’ve got every angle covered, and can sail through the questions with confidence and ease.

Tips to keep in mind:

  • Be honest about your time off to raise a family or have a child. Mention any side-projects or volunteer work that you may have done alongside, if relevant, but don’t try to hide the reason you’ve been out of employment for a while.
  • Focus on any transferable skills you may have acquired as a new parent that would be relevant to the new role.
  • Use humour to deflect and redirect inappropriate questions, which although insensitive, may stem from a good place.
  • Try to reframe an inappropriate question to get at the root of the interviewer’s potential concern, then address that reframed question.
  • If you’re not sure how to respond to an inappropriate or illegal question, you can politely say: ‘Can I ask how this relates to the role?”
  • Try to remain calm in the face of difficult questions. If you find yourself faced with questions that you know you shouldn’t be, it’s probably a direct reflection on the company culture and not a place to pursue a new role or career.
  • Remember you are under no obligation to answer illegal questions. Be aware of your rights and know that you can always walk away from the interview.

Be proud

Finally, be proud of what you’ve achieved in the time you’ve been away from a paid job! As a parent, you’ve learned a whole host of new skills, many of which are extremely valuable in a variety of contexts, not just at home. Be open and honest with potential employers about what you’re excited about in the company, the steps you’ve already taken preparing for the transition back into work, and the plans you’ve got in place for when you do start back. Demonstrating your organisational skills in this way will only make you a more attractive candidate.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide for stay at home mums returning to work, and that, by utilising these tips and tricks you can launch or return to a career that is not only professionally fulfilling, but that enables you to do the best job you can as a parent, too.

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