Experiencing a maternity leave career transition is a common experience for many women. This transition is often regarded as a critical turning point for the family, the individual, and one’s career. However, less common is the focus on how this transition specifically impacts a woman’s career development. If you are anticipating a maternity leave career transition or are in the midst of one, you will find some tips and strategies below to help you cope with the change process before, during, and after your maternity leave.
Before the Maternity Leave
Prepare for the disclosure: Before disclosing your pregnancy or intention to adopt, take some time to gather additional information so you feel prepared to have an informed discussion with your employer. You may want to explore the following:
- Your employer’s practices and policies regarding maternity leave.
- Your legal rights (e.g., how much notice you need to provide, what positions you are able to return to after your leave).
- Your career goals and aspirations, including your values and needs.
- Your manager’s likely concerns and ideas you have for addressing those concerns.
- Options for flexible work.
- How and when you would like your news shared with others.
- Communicate your needs: Some women require additional accommodations at work during their pregnancy in order to maintain the health and safety of both themselves and their child. In the months leading up to your maternity leave you have a legal right to ask for temporary accommodations at work as well as a responsibility to explain to your employer exactly what kind of help and assistance you require. These modifications may be physical, environmental, or in regards to greater flexibility to your work schedule.
- Establish a communication plan: In collaboration with your employer or Human Resources representative, determine how much communication you feel would be appropriate while you are on maternity leave. Have a conversation about how often updates will be given, on what topics, and how communication will be maintained (e.g., telephone, e-mail, text, mail, or in person).
During the Maternity Leave
- Engage in professional and/or personal development: Although your maternity leave may be a time when your job is put on pause, you may still want to engage in professional and/or personal development. Whether it is taking part in a training seminar, pursuing career counselling, attending a workshop or event, or simply meeting with friends or colleagues, connecting with other like-minded individuals during your leave can help you to maintain and increase your competence and confidence. Contact your professional association to see what development resources may be available to you.
- Maintain the communication plan: Although your employer should be responsible for upholding the established communication plan, this plan generally allows for two-way communication that invites you to periodically check in with your employer or colleagues to discuss work and other topics. If you find that the established communication plan requires changes, do not hesitate to discuss possible revisions with your employer.
After the Maternity Leave
- Have a return to work interview with your employer: When you choose to return to work there may be a number of changes to your work circumstances as well as other aspects of the workplace. Having an open dialogue about any changes in roles and responsibilities with your employer will allow both of you to clearly communicate and negotiate expectations.
- Take part in a re-onboarding process: Being on maternity leave can present challenges and opportunities in reintegrating into the workplace. Be sure to discuss with your employer the possibility for re-onboarding and re-integration, not only into your work role, but also into the social environment of the office.
- Discuss flexible work arrangements: Whether you gradually return to work or implement other flexible work arrangements, the opportunity to have flexibility in your work creates room for integration between work and family lives. As a mother returning to work, better work-life integration allows you to be more effective in both your role as a parent and as an employee. Consider what flexible arrangements may suit you and have a conversation with your employer about what options are available in your workplace.
Remember, just like your behaviours and interactions change to correspond to the age and stage of your child, your career too requires similar adaptation. Career is developmental in nature; it is not a “once and done” style of decision making. The importance of your career relative to other aspects of your life may change over time. It is important to reflect on, and identify how, your maternity leave career transition impacts your priorities. Adapt your goals and objectives accordingly and take actions that support what makes sense for you.
Avra Davidoff, M.C., R. Psych. is an Associate with Calgary Career Counselling. This article originally appeared on the CPA Alberta "Daily Dividends" newsletter at https://dailydividends.cpaalberta.ca/effectively-navigate-maternitypaternity-leave-career-transitions/.
For more tips and strategies on how to navigate your maternity leave, download the free pdf Making It Work! How to Effectively Navigate Maternity Leave Career Transitions: An Employee's Guide.