By Devyani Borade
When I announced at work that I was expecting and would be taking a year off to bring up baby, the congratulations, well-meaning advice and jokes came thick and fast. But then popped up the inevitable question: was I planning to return to work?
Making the decision to return to work after maternity leave is an important, serious and potential uncomfortable choice to make. The prospect is fraught with challenges and can even feel like starting an altogether new job at an altogether different company. ‘What if I don’t fit in with the new team?’ ‘Am I dressed right?’ ‘Do I remember how to do my old job?’ The quandaries can be nerve-wracking.
No matter how many years of experience you bring back to the table, the playing field changed when you weren’t looking. Colleagues who continued at work are more on top of industry trends, ideas and have developed new skills. Old clients and old friends may have moved on. Here are some simple tips to get back in the groove without getting overwhelmed:
Be open to change
Things will have changed and accepting this fact rather than resisting it will make your transition easier and smoother.
Keep in touch
Even before you return to the workplace stay in touch with industry buzz. Read trade magazines, follow experts on social media and participate in online forums and discussions. Whenever you can manage the time attend a weekend conference or reach out to former colleagues over the telephone or email to bring yourself up-to-date with the current situation.
On your first day back in the office, arrange a formal meeting with your immediate supervisor and make a simple bullet-point list of your tasks. Taking action on work items in decreasing order of priority will help get urgent matters out of the way, reducing stress and giving you a better idea of how to structure your workweek so that you are neither overworked nor left idle.
Jump into the deep end
There’s nothing like getting your hands dirty immediately to get into the swing of things. The more you delay direct action, the more your mental block will grow, and so will the pile of demands on your desk. Don’t procrastinate, stick to your deadlines and follow up on questions right away.
Take baby steps
Begin small. Break down large and complex tasks into smaller chunks of manageable items. A task that looks insurmountable at first becomes achievable when done in logical stages.
Focus and be disciplined
Stick to deadlines and avoid distractions.
Share what you are doing with your colleagues so that any potential for error is detected and flagged sooner rather than later. Colleagues may have suggestions and tools to do a task more quickly or efficiently, saving you time and trouble.
Ask for help. And offer help!
Reaching out directly to colleagues to get support if you have questions about a task or project is the simplest way to get your bearings. When asking for help bear in mind that others have their own jobs to do, so keep queries to a minimum. Similarly, offering to help someone with their work will help you anchor and force you to think on your feet. Just make sure your help is welcomed by your colleagues.
As you complete each item on your to-do list, tick or strike it off. This helps you feel a sense of accomplishment and acts as an incentive to get more done. Work with concentration for a couple of hours and then take a break. Get some fresh air or make yourself a cup of tea. Remind yourself that your professional skills have not diminished during your hiatus.
Make every minute count
Put your coffee break to good use by having an informal catch-up with colleagues. The human brain retains more when data is delivered in a relaxed dynamic atmosphere rather than, say, a five-page memo.
Be productive and creative, and say hello to a stress-less comeback! n