Making a Comeback: How Coaching Can Help Parents Return to Work
Returning to work after maternity or paternity leave can be a daunting prospect for many of us. All of the old routines have changed. You have just about managed to figure out the complicated logistical requirements this small new family member demands and, before you know it, you’re having to shift everything up again, and get yourself back in the game at work. Right now, many of us are returning to work in an even more challenging context due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One minute you’re pureeing vegetables and shaking maracas. The next, you’re back at your desk and faced with a company that has – in all probability – changed beyond recognition. Is it any wonder so many new parents struggle with the return to work?
Back in 2012, I was lucky enough to have a year of maternity leave after the birth of my daughter. I was then unlucky enough to return to the news that I was being made redundant along with the rest of my team, and that I would have to spend six months planning a handover to someone who was, as yet, unidentified.
Not an ideal scenario in anyone’s books. But what was interesting was that almost everyone I spoke to – even those who had returned to seemingly normal working situations – found going back after an extended period away, really, really tough.
Why? Because in many ways, it’s not so much returning to work, as starting all over again.
Not only do you suddenly have a whole load of new logistical things to think about – childcare, phone calls from nursery, leaving bang on time so you can sprint to the train. You also have the huge barrage of emotions that come with being a parent. Guilt. Loss of identity. Sheer exhaustion. Wanting to do your best, but knowing your child will always come first.
And on top of all that, most companies change hugely in the space of parental leave. Offices move. Desks swap. Clients change. People come and go. And, if like me, contact over your time off has been minimal, how are you meant to just slot back in?
Someone to talk to
Starting next month, we’ll be working with a North American bank to help thousands of their staff do just that every year. And when I say thousands, I mean thousands.
Each year this bank has over 2,000 people return to work after leave of one kind or another. That’s a lot of people who – faced with a less than welcoming return – might decide that the company isn’t the right place for them any more.
Once LHH’s coaching programme kicks off, each one of those people will be offered four months’ worth of coaching to help them settle back in. They can have their first session a month before they’re due to return (a time when my main emotions were dread and anxiety), and then continue with their coach when they’re back at work.
As well as giving people a reassuring and supportive person to talk to, the programme has been specifically designed to cover off the topics most parents find tough in those early months. Self-confidence. New ambitions and aims. And – crucially – how to find a good work/life balance, which is both healthy and sustainable.
Having a programme like this would have made a huge difference when I returned to work, so it’s been fantastic to be a part of the launch and to share my own experiences. Even having a company acknowledge that it’s a tough time goes a long way in making people feel understood – how was I to know everyone felt like that?
This isn’t just a benefit for new mothers, either. (Although we only have to look at the statistics on how many women are in the most senior of management positions to know that there’s more we can do in this area.)
The idea is that anyone who’s off for an extended period – through illness, caring for family or even taking a sabbatical – can be helped back into work when they return. And if each one of those people starts back feeling happy and confident, just think of the benefits for companies as a whole.
Having been ‘back at work’ for seven years now, I know that the job/life challenges parents face don’t just disappear as your child starts walking, or even once they start school. There will always be guilt. Nativity plays that clash with big meetings. And colleagues who just don’t get that leaving at 5pm doesn’t mean you’re going home to relax.
But if we can give parents and carers just a little bit of help with getting the balance right, just a little bit of support to show them they’re valued and are doing a great job, we might just find that more people realise they can have it all, after all.