Going back to work after maternity leave can be a rollercoaster of emotions. If you’ve ever thought you’re the only one who has a jumble of feelings (wracked with guilt at the thought of leaving your baby, secretly looking forward to going back to work, exhausted and worried about how you’ll be able to manage on broken sleep or looking forward to getting a sense of your own identity back) then let me assure you – its not just you. You’re not alone.
Going back to work during a global pandemic puts a slightly different spin on our return. For those still working at home, it may ease guilt. No commute equals more family time. Previously been told you can’t work from home? That argument may no longer stand. But, this isn’t a normal ‘working from home situation’. How do you work without childcare? How do you build relationships virtually? How do you avoid burn out when you’re working until midnight as its the only time you can get things done?
Over the last few weeks I’ve been running a C-19 virtual version of our Mumager Ramp Up workshop. In the past I’ve written numerous posts on returning to work which are here in our blog at www.mumager.ie. This post focuses on 5 crucial conversations you need to have at work and home as we continue to work in this period of prolonged disruption.
1. The ‘What’s Realistic?’ Conversation
We all have a different set up and its important to work with your current reality. If you’re home alone then your baby/toddler is going to need you during the day. Your opportunity to work is going to be limited. If you’re both working at home – then you need to figure out how you’re going to work as a team. Please don’t compare yourself to colleagues who don’t have caring responsibilities. ‘You do you’ as the saying goes.
2. The Values Conversation
Knowing what’s important to you right now is the cornerstone of figuring out how to ‘have it all’. Having it all means different things to different people. If you’re part of a couple and you’re both working, its crucial to sit down and discuss what you want from your family life and career. In an article by Harvard Business Review they suggest “dual-career couples need to craft a plan. If you stick to trying to manage two independent career tracks you risk ending up competing rather than collaborating”.
What do you both want? Are you both keen to progress in your career or is one of you going to pause whilst your family are young? What does ‘quality family time’ mean to each of you? What kind of parents do you want to be? Are their tensions between the things you want? This conversation is important not just during C-19 but for life beyond. It opens discussions about working hours, boundaries, who will do drop-off and pick up (when creches open again), who will stay home when your child is unwell etc. Talking about this now helps you avoid playing ‘top trumps’ against each other.
3. The ‘How do we work as a Team?’ Conversation
A HBR article ‘Ways to Advance Gender Equity as We Return to the Office’ states that: ‘Even when both partners are forced to work full-time from home, women still do more household chores, childcare, and homework oversight. And that was before the recent pandemic hit. Recent research suggests the additional burden of working from home while juggling child care, virtual schooling, and other household responsibilities is compounding stress in women’s personal and professional lives. New evidence from Lean In reveals that one in four women say they are experiencing severe anxiety’.
How does this resonate with you? Perhaps you’re in a household where you do take an equal role in the care of children/running of the household. Your day is split up into a routine with each parent working ‘shifts’ – both get the same amount of work/caring/household time.
In other households your partner may be working outside the home – so you’re home alone. I’ve heard examples recently of women getting up and working from 5am – 7am, looking after the children all day, then working again from 8-midnight. This isn’t sustainable and you’re bound for burnout if you’re working in this way. If this is the case you need to have a conversation about how you can share the load – what can your partner take on at the beginning and end of the day? Could you work a few hours over the weekend instead of late at night, and your partner takes full responsibility for the children at the weekend?
In my parenting work with organisations over the last 6 years, I’ve noticed that for every 100 women who ask for some sort of flexibility in their work, on average only 3 men do. Why is that? One woman shared that despite the fact she was the main earner in the house, she was taking one day a week of parental leave. It didn’t make sense financially, yet her husband was concerned about what people would think if he asked. As we strive for equality, flexibility is a conversation for men and women. Could your partner afford to take some parental leave? Could they reduce their hours/ask for more flexibility re start/end times?
There is no ‘right’ answer and its not a one size fits all. Unless we want this to be a step back for equality, we need to sit down and work out a solution that works for both parents. You are a team.
4. The Expectations Conversation
Have a frank discussion with your manager about your situation. What realistically can you do? Share the set up you have and your work boundaries. Once you’ve established that, you need to agree priorities. What work is both urgent and important that you need to focus on? What do you need to let go of? Having a clear direction helps you manage expectations and also allows you to focus on the key deliverables. Managers are trying to balance the needs of everyone in the team, and may make assumptions about what you can do – keep them informed.
5. The Boundaries Conversation
One of the biggest challenges of remote working is that people report they’re working longer and harder. If you don’t set clear boundaries life can become one long cycle of sleep-work-care for kids-housework-work-sleep repeat. Once you’ve got a clear idea of your routine communicate your working pattern to your team and make sure your hours are on your out of office. Block out your calendar for the times you’re not working. If working in the evening, set a timer, when it goes off – stop. Put your phone and laptop away when you’re ‘signed off’.
You can also have boundaries around household chores. Agree that ‘no one sits down until everyone sits down’. Finally, its not selfish to take time for yourself. If you want to be at your best at work and home – you need time to decompress. Set aside time for you – whether its going out for a walk first thing in the morning, or meeting a friend for a socially distanced coffee at the weekend (without kids) – set aside a regular slot where you can do what makes you happy.
We will be running more of our virtual Maternity Ramp Up workshops throughout the year. Our next one is scheduled for September 2020. Do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more, or to enquire about running your own workshop in house.