Returning to work after parental leave can feel loaded: aside from logistics there are misconceptions, assumptions and worries. These are a few of the myths that we regularly hear from parental leave returners we coach, that we do our best to dispel.
Myth #1: ‘I need to prove myself again’
Coming back is not starting again. It’s un-pausing the clock; picking up where you left off, with all of your existing skills and talents plus many new ones picked up along the way (multi-tasking through severe sleep deprivation, hello!)
Even if you’re returning to a changed role or working with a new manager, remember that you’re in that role for a reason – your reputation precedes you and your skills and strengths are within you.
Believing that you need to start over can lead to unrealistic pressure and internal expectations that are generally much higher than what anyone else is expecting of you.
Instead of worrying about proving yourself, reconnect to your strengths and accomplishments, and actively seek opportunities to raise your profile and visibility. Map out your key stakeholders and reflect on what they know of your attributes and achievements already, and what you can share about your priorities for the next twelve months and beyond.
Myth #2: ‘I can’t say no to a request in my first week’
It can be tempting to avoid setting boundaries early on, justified by being in the immediate return period or having additional support at home on your initial return. ‘I’m just catching up, it’ll settle soon’ you might say. Or ‘I don’t have to do childcare pick up in the first month, so I can use the extra time to get my head around everything’.
This can create a perfect storm for challenges down the line as you then need to re-communicate and renegotiate your boundaries.
Get clear early on: what does a sustainable way of working look like for you? More than anything, effectively managing your boundaries requires consistency. Be unapologetic and confident in setting up your sustainable way of working from day one, and in doing so provide your colleagues with the transparency and consistency they need to work effectively with your schedule.
Myth #3: ‘If I go part-time I’ll end up being paid for four days and working five’
It’s the word on the street among mums particularly: there’s no point working part-time because you’ll end up working a full-week anyway. And that’s certainly true for some part-timers. But there are a whole host of part-timers who have an entirely different experience, and contrary to popular opinion this is not dependent on the busyness of their role, their seniority or their industry.
Those who make their part-time arrangement successful take responsibility for creating a way of working that suits them. They have robust discussions upfront so that their responsibilities and deliverables are adjusted to reflect their reduced hours. They’re clear on where they are and aren’t willing to be flexible. They check in regularly with themselves and their teams to make sure it’s working. And they don’t shoulder sole responsibility when it’s not – they table it as a resourcing issue with their team or manager and figure it out together.
Myth #4: ‘It’s too early to have a career conversation’
It might seem sensible to hold back on talking about your career aspirations until you’ve settled back in, and got a couple of wins under your belt. Suddenly months pass and by the time you have the conversation to get the ball rolling, you’re well past ready for the next challenge.
Flag your intentions for promotion or the next step in your career early on in your return, well before you feel ready. This sends a powerful message to your manager and may help position you firmly for new opportunities that arise.
Raising it early also factors in the inevitable time lag between first raising your intentions and the advancement actually happening. As with many things in life, if you wait until you’re ready, you’ve probably waited too long.
Myth #5: ‘It’s not the right time for promotion’
You may have clear family priorities which at first glance seem to conflict with taking on a bigger role. But underpinning this thinking may be untested assumptions about how you’d manage the role and what it would be like.
We might look at the incumbent and tell ourselves there’s no way we want that stress and those hours. But their way of working doesn’t need to be yours. Ask yourself, how could I approach the role differently? What resources do I have to craft a way of working that works for me? How might this senior role offer more flexibility and autonomy rather than less?
Of course, going for promotion shortly after your return or with young ones at home isn’t going to be the right path for everyone. But it’s worth gently testing your thinking to ensure you’re making the decision of whether or not to go for it based on your own wisdom, rather than the often-louder voices of others’ experiences.
Busting through your own misconceptions and assumptions is only part of the puzzle. Your manager and your organisation more broadly are responsible for creating an inclusive culture that supports a successful parental return.