Returning to work after an extended absence is always hard. You have to get your mind back in the office mode, readjust to a stricter schedule, and figure out how to meet your personal obligations with less time on your hands.
Then, consider if you’re a new mother. You have a whole new person to take care of at home, you’re sleeping less, and you simply can’t turn off your personal life when you sit down at your desk. Returning to work after maternity leave is no easy feat.
Thankfully, a number of books and articles are starting to address this crucial adjustment period for new mothers. For instance, Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, is a great book about balancing your new personal demands with work.
However, it’s important to realize that it’s not just up to a new mother to make the transition back to work a good one. As a manager, it’s your job to set your employees up for success. That responsibility doesn’t change when the possible hurdle to success is a personal one – like having a child.
So, how can you ease your employee’s transition from maternity leave? There’s no easy answer, especially as each new mother adapts to her new routine differently, but these five tips are great ways to start:
#1: Be proactive. Don’t wait for your employee to ask for help. She may not realize she needs help with the transition, either because she’s underestimating the demands of a new child or didn’t realize how drastically a long absence from work can change things. More likely, she’ll be hesitant to ask for assistance because she doesn’t want to give the perception that she wants special treatment or is having difficulty adjusting.
You can and should open the conversation for how you can ease the transition back to work. And, don’t wait until the new mother is back in the office. Start your planning before she sets off for maternity leave, so your employee knows you’ll be ready to work with her upon return.
#2: Focus on rights, not privileges. One way to make your employee more comfortable with asking for certain accommodations is to explicitly call out the legal rights she has a returning mother. After all, it’s much easier for someone to advocate for her rights, rather than requesting privileges.
Whenever you offer an accommodation, state why your employee is entitled to it. If others (like your HR department or another employee) make accommodations, try to do the same.
For instance, an employee recently openly thanked another employee for providing her a breastfeeding room at an all-day, offsite event. While it was a considerate move to make sure the mother had space, the public thanks also made it seems as if that were a nice-to-have accommodation. As a manager, it’s important to point out that it was not only a nice consideration, but also a legally required one.
#3: Give the benefit of the doubt. Especially in the first few weeks, your new mother is going to make a mistake or two. She might underestimate how long she needs for a breastfeeding break and end up late to a meeting. Or she might forget her computer at home as she rushed to get her child to daycare. She might even fall asleep at her desk after an unexpected all-night at home. I’ve seen them all happen, plus a lot more.
As a manager, it’s important to give the benefit of the doubt. You know your employee is trying her very best to make her new routine work at home and in the office. Make sure she knows you understand that point, so she’s more willing to let you know when something isn’t working for her.
What’s more, make sure everyone else in your office knows that too. If you as the manager show your confidence in the employee, others are more likely to adopt the same confidence.
#4: Set an example. Ultimately, it’s your job to set the tone for how your employee returns to work. That’s not just letting her know you’re there for her and willing to find solutions to any problem. You should be open and public about how you’re approaching your employee’s transition back to the workplace.
Not only will this show others in the office how you expect them to interact with and support your new mother; it will also set an example for future managers to help their own employees during times of transition.
At the same time, if something isn’t working for your new employee, you should be the first person to acknowledge and start correcting the situation. You are not only a manager. You’re an advocate for your employee.
#5: Talk about her baby. I’ll admit upfront that the first time I managed a new mother, I wasn’t good about this one. I was hesitant to focus on the new baby, because I didn’t want her to think I thought of her more as a mother than a colleague. But while my intentions weren’t wrong, my actions made my employee think I wasn’t cognizant of her new circumstances. That’s a problem.
The amount you talk about the new child will ultimately depend on your employee’s preferences. However, you should regularly ask how she and the child are doing – if for no other reason than to open the conversation about how the transition back to work is going. More likely, your questions will improve the morale of your worker and let her know she doesn’t have to leave her personal life at the door.
Have more advice for how to better manage new mothers at work? Let us know about them by adding to the comments below!