Helen Letchfield, co-founder of Parenting for Professionals Ltd in the UK, which enables companies to support new and existing parents at work through coaching, wrote a great article at TrainingJournal.com about the reasons why women leave the workforce after maternity leave. Here’s a bit of what Helen had to say:
Returning to work after maternity leave is one of the biggest changes a female employee will ever have to make. Yet in many organisations, this life-changing event remains unsupported. Very typically, women returners struggle in silence, not wanting to appear ‘needy’ by asking for help.
Helen goes on to offer up five reasons why it’s tough for women to return to work. I’ve added my own commentary but what else would you add to this list?
1. “Cutting the cord” – Being away from your baby that you’ve become so attached to can be heart-wrenching. Handing them over to their caregiver can make you feel like a jerk. A co-worker of mine brought her one-year-old to daycare for the first time on Monday and was really out of sorts all day. I remember my first day back and I was a MESS!
2. A Tale of Two Cities – your world at home with baby is unstructured, physically demanding and may even be intellectually draining (Have you watched Daytime TV lately?). At work your challenged in opposite ways. You use brainpower to get things done. It’s an adjustment for sure.
3. Low Confidence– since the worlds of home with baby and professional in the workplace require different skills, a new mother may not feel as effective when they return. I guess this is one case where our short maternity leaves in the the US can be somewhat beneficial. It’s highly unlikely you forgot how to write e-mails over the course of 12 unpaid weeks at home! Your brain didn’t fall out of your body, your baby did. You’ve still got it, so work it!
4. Who Am I? – the concern is usually unfounded but some new moms think, “Will they take me seriously at work now that I’m a mother?” If you’re the logical type, realize that the most women working either are or were new moms at some point in their careers. If you’re the emotional type, you’ll spiral into the pit of despair from time to time but then you’ll realize that it’s not worth the fuss. You are a new person, with new responsibilties and you’ll figure it all out.
5. Weird new dynamic with co-workers and the boss– Once again I am tounge-and-cheek and extoll the benefits of short maternity leave in the US. You probably haven’t been gone from work long enough for the dust to settle on your TPS reports so it’s highly unlikely that your co-workers have had enough time to formulate a new way of thinking about you (actually, most didn’t think about you at all). In reality, unless your work performance changes, your co-workers and boss won’t really think of you in a new weird way. We’re the ones that make it weird so just don’t make it weird, ok? Glad that’s settled. I will say there are the odd employees and managers who do act differently because they don’t want to overwhelm you or they’re just jerks who don’t understand. Once again, if you just cut through the weirdness and address their concerns (perceived or real) head on, everyone can just get back to the new normal.
Although I make light of each of these reasons, they’re real. 99.999% of new moms that I’ve talked to experienced one or all of these…and more. Seek out resources to help support you during this time. Share your concerns with family and friends and a trusted mentor at work. You are not alone. I’m here for you, right?
So, what was/is on your mind about returning from maternity leave?