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Career Advice

How to Step Back Into Leadership After Maternity Leave

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated 14 May 2020
|6 min read

You’ve just experienced a few crazy months — a mix of newborn bliss and stress. Preparing to step back into your pre-mum role, as the leader of a company, can be scary and guilt-ridden not to mention challenging.

“For a mother who is returning to the office after maternity leave, reentry can be a bumpy ride. After three or so months at home with her baby, she has to shift her attention back to work, a move that can feel sudden and startling. Throw in some sleep deprivation and new concerns like childcare and breast-milk pumping, and it’s no wonder that some women come back from maternity leave briefly—only to quit shortly thereafter,” suggests Manon DeFelice, Founder and CEO of Inkwell, a global flexible work innovator focused on helping startups, small to mid-sized businesses, and nonprofits thrive.

If you love your job, and want to stick with it after maternity leave, there are many things you can do to prepare. As you get ready to step back into a leadership role, use these ideas to make the process more enjoyable and less stressful.

Revisit Your Achievements

You were a fierce leader before, and you’ll be a fierce leader again. It may be hard to see that when you’ve been at home with a newborn baby for 3 months, covered in spit-up and unshowered for days. As you step back into your leadership position, revisit your many career achievements:

“Go back through the last 5 years in your career and list down all that you are proud of. This can be a really great way to reconnect your mind with your skills and capabilities. To step back into that ‘work identity.’ Even more so, it reminds you that you are a very capable woman,” suggests Michelle Sorrenesen, leadership and mindset coach.

Do this in the weeks leading up to your entry back into the office, as you wrap your mind around what it means to be a full-time employee and leader again.

Fine Tune Your Leadership Style

Time away from the office has likely done a lot for your leadership skills. As a mum, you have a new way of looking at the world, and therefore will return with new priorities and leadership tactics. Use this as an opportunity to re-think your leadership role, hone in on how you can do your job best, and turn those new skills into styles that can address the various needs of your job and employees.

According to leadership experts at project management startup Unito, there are four main leadership styles to think about:

  • Supportive: Be supportive when your team lacks confidence, employees are stressed, or work is repetitive.
  • Directive: Use a directive style when you need to provide clear guidance and clarify job roles and responsibilities to employees.
  • Participative: Use your participative leadership skills when motivating employees to participate in problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Achievement-oriented: Use this style to focus on setting challenging goals, drive confidence among the team, and maintain employee morale.

How do your old and current skills lend themselves to these leaderships styles? How can you use your new mom mindset to be a better leader? After fine-tuning your skill set and style, you’ll step back into the office feeling confident and ready to take on the challenges ahead of you.

Phase Back In

Instead of jumping back in full-time, slowly rejoin the team on a part-time basis, if you can. This is especially important for focus, and if you want to be a full-time working mum long-term. As a leader, there’s a lot expected of you, and getting back into that role slowly may be better for you mental health. Lauren Smith Brody, founder of the Fifth Trimester movement explains:

“Focus is an enormous issue when you first go back; phasing back in really helps, according to numerous studies and many of the mothers I spoke with. Unsurprisingly, women who experience those distracting ‘daily re-entry regrets’ most likely intend to leave their jobs. Also unsurprising—but so important—is the fact that women with shorter leaves have more of those regrets. If you can extend your leave, even only part-time, you increase your chances of staying at work long term.

If you can’t come back on a part-time basis, ask to have one extra day off each week, or to work from home one day each week. This slow re-entry into work as a leader will be critical to managing the stresses that come with it, in addition to the new mom guilt you’ll be feeling.

Find Your Community

You may be experiencing a range of emotions with each passing day that you’re back in the office. You may feel alone in that, but you’re not. Lori Mihalich-Levin, founder of Mindful Return — an organization that helps new mums and dads navigate the uncertain terrain of working parenthood — shares her experience:

“When I went back to work after leave, there was an unspoken rule that I wasn’t supposed to talk about how hard it was. Or that I was struggling. Or that I had changed and grown as a person and employee. There were plenty of other women in my office who had gone on maternity leave and returned, and yet I felt isolated.

Then one day after my second return to work, I sat down with a colleague who had just recently come back herself after maternity leave. We shut the door and found so much power in talking about our shared experiences.”

Instead of holding it all in, find your community at work. You may discover that people you never connected with before are now the only ones who understand what you’re going through. It’s hard to be vulnerable in this way, but it will make for an easier transition. You may even find new leadership allies that never existed before you left.

Get the Low-Down Before Arriving

The business has been humming along without you, which means there have been changes, from new hires to upgraded tools. Before stepping back into your leadership role, do the background work. When checking-in, ask for:

  • Logins for new tools that you’ll be using. Playing with it at home will make you feel more comfortable on your first day back.
  • Updates on company structure, leadership hires or fires, and overall company goals. While much of this will be a longer conversation when you’re back in the office, it’s helpful to know what you’re walking into.

Confidently Step Back Into Your Leadership Role

When maternity leave ends, it’s time for you to step back into your role as a company leader. Use these ideas to make a potentially-bumpy transition easier to manage. Remember why you’re a successful leader, focus on phasing back in if possible, and get any prudent information before your first day. All of this will ensure a successful transition and ensure that you feel happy with both your new job and your old one.

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