Leaders Plus Fellow and first-time-mum, Louise Walton, shares her top 3 tips for a successful return to work.
When I returned to work after 13 months of maternity leave, I was given the option to apply for a new role at a higher level in the organisation. I returned on 1 May, had an interview two weeks later, and by 1 June was appointed Head of Employee Communications for HSBC Private Banking. The new role gave me the opportunity to work closely with our CEO, who is a member of the HSBC Group Management Board. Whilst it was a bit more of a ‘hit-the-ground-running’ return to work than I’d expected I was excited to talk about my career ambitions with my manager and continue on the path I’d worked hard to build. For any return-to-work mum’s looking to do the same, these are the three things I learned during the process:
Aim high – even if you’re not sure of what you’ll want!
It’s good to make your ambitions known before you go on maternity leave even if you’re not sure about when/how you will come back to work as a new parent – think big picture as you never know what will happen while you are on leave or what opportunities will arise.
It’s important to be clear with your employer as to what you want/need to make the job work for you. I have a full-time role, but my manager is happy for me to flex the hours I work (in and out of the office) each day as long as I get the job done. This means I get to take my son to nursery in the morning or put him to bed at night when it suits me. But this comes with the reality of having a “work/mum life blend” – sometimes I work late into the evening or on Sunday afternoons.
Find your support network
If you work in a large organisation it’s worth having a coffee with a couple of people who are working parents. I did this in my first few weeks back at work and it really helped me to gain some perspective on what it takes to make the work/mum life blend a reality and also how to look after myself – a lot of people told me, “it’s a marathon not a sprint so find your rhythm and enjoy the ride.”
Sometimes the stars align and you’re able to grab new opportunities, sometimes they don’t. I can’t say it’s easy taking on more responsibility at work when you’re trying to be the best working parent you know. However, what surprised me the most, was the conversations it enabled me to have with people at all levels of the organisation and from many different backgrounds and cultures. Being a parent is something that most of us can relate to and want to talk about – once you realise there are other people in your workplace experiencing the same things as you -teething, potty training, nursery related illnesses- it makes you proud of your own achievements and the psychological safety of knowing that others understand what it means to be a “leader with a baby”.