A longer than usual maternity break need not be the end of your career. Here’s how to use your break effectively!
Being a new mother is equal parts euphoria and exhaustion. Adding to that, a career break can send women into a spiral of self-doubt.
Tackling the struggles of being a new mother is in itself challenging but without adequate support and planning, heading back to work becomes even harder. A 2014 survey conducted by the London School of Business found that 70 percent of women "fear" taking a career break. So while you are certainly not alone, here are some tips that can help you stay invested in your career during maternity leave.
We excitedly plan for the new baby on board. Nursery items are hand picked, doctor visits scheduled and baby proofing completed well ahead of time. On a similar note, we need to meticulously plan for the career break. The longer the break, the more detailed needs to be the planning.
While the Maternity Benefits Act in India mandates six months of maternity leave, some women may need more time due to lack of family support, medical or other reasons. While this absence is for a life changing event, the eventual return needs to be clearly outlined. This not only displays dedication and commitment but also assuages your own fears about being left out of the career track.
So what do we plan for? First of all, plan when to take maternity leave. The last months of pregnancy are very tiring for some mothers, so plan ahead as to when you want to take time off. The return from work however, may need some flexibility. Some mothers want to return in six weeks and some are not ready in six months. So prepare for this ambivalence and give yourself and your team the ability to plan for different possibilities.
If you know well in advance that you will need maternity leave of more than 6-8 months, initiate that conversation with your manager so that the team can be prepared.
Keep in touch
While discussing maternity leave with your boss, ask to schedule monthly meetings to keep in touch with ongoing or new projects. Ensure that important work related communication is forwarded and be aware of upcoming organizational changes. This would also depend on your employer’s policy as some companies prefer those on maternity leave to be completely offline.
Keep up your professional network during your maternity break, to the extent possible. Spruce up your LinkedIn profile and add connections that are relevant. Follow industry evangelists and veterans to keep abreast with the conversation in your field.
Upgrade your skills
While six months might seem like a considerable chunk of time, nursing and nappy changes will eat away most of it. However, you can consider upgrading your skills in small modules.
For women taking more time off, this is a valuable period that could be put to use judiciously. Technical skills can easily be gained through distance learning courses. However, be cautious and don’t overload an already overwhelming schedule. If you plan to use a couple of hours each day, it will certainly lift up your confidence and also serve as a much needed distraction from burping routines!
Start part time if needed
Once the physical exhaustion of delivery and getting used to breastfeeding has subsided and your mind is functional, check with your peers and managers to see if you can start part time. Maybe you can help set up the training for the team, or document the functional spec for development. Once the part time option becomes sustainable and you have re-established yourself, you can then slowly ease back in to full-time work.
Accept that having a baby may change your goals or your schedules. It might seem like the worst time to lean in towards your career goals while nursing an infant, but seek support. Hire help, communicate with your spouse and also reach out to other new mothers. Not everything that was viable before will be feasible now. Re-evaluate commutes and schedules, off-load housework and amplify your time management skills.
Sandhya Aggarwal, HR Head at a leading MNC, states that planning out the break can make all the difference. In her career in HR that has spawned several decades, Sandhya has noticed that women who have spent considerable time to work out the details of the break and the return find it easier to blend back. “Plan and plan as much as you can,” she reiterates, so you can enjoy this life changing event with peace of mind.