Back to work – challenges and expectations
So, going back to work… A walk in the park, or an absolute shocker?
Neither, but a lot of hard work! Waking up with conjunctivitis I picked up from my baby who picked it up at nursery wasn’t the best start either when it came to my formal return to work day!
I took the opportunity to phase my return to work. Whilst Mr P took some time off work and had the most amount of fun as full-time Daddy day-care, I did two sets of two weeks at work. And I made myself commute into London five days a week, which was tougher than it is now my maternity leave is over, as now I am working 4 day weeks only 2 of which will be in town.
It’s hard to prepare for a return to work, I found that I really didn’t know what to expect. So many of my friends have done it and few people speak fondly about it. So I thought it would helpful to share the key things that I noticed, to help others prepare…
Stuff goes on
Hey – at my work, they even built a new building when I was gone and got new systems which meant I didn’t have a clue what was happening on day one. I have found though, that it doesn’t matter what I actually missed during leave, it’s interesting finding out about it all now and I can use it as a means of reconnecting with colleagues and take the time to understand and catch up properly. It’s rare at work that you can ask the stupid questions to learn a bit more, but coming back to work and refilling my brain with work things has been one of those opportunities to take hold of!
Baby brain is real
Remembering stuff has been hard enough during maternity leave, but when you wind it up a few notches into a busy corporate environment then keeping track and not dropping a ball is even harder. I have taken to writing everything down. I always used to write lists, but currently, I am also keeping detailed lists and notes from meetings and conversations rather than just relying on actions plans that are normally sent round after key meetings.
Lingo and long words
Corporate speak is a language I haven’t needed recently and I have to say it is very strange not having on the tip of my tongue a technical word or a little Latin phrase so commonly used in office chat and emails. There’s no chat about nappy rash, ounces of milk or the latest weaning successes which I have become far better versed in recently! I am finding that taking the time to prepare properly for meetings is vital. And I’m trying to stop myself getting hung up on using the perfect word, as I know it will come with time and practice.
It goes. When you start walking into meetings in the office after having only had playdates and coffees for a year it is daunting, to say the least. As a result, I found that I have far less confidence that I once had. I guess also this is because there are new faces and whereas 12 months ago I didn’t necessarily need to introduce myself to many people, now I do sometimes need to. A year ago I would easily have stood at a lectern or chaired a meeting with senior people, but that is currently not as easy. I’m accepting that there’s no need to hit the ground running at the old speed, I’m letting people coach you back into it, but also working with a few partners to set out clear progression objectives so that I focus in the right areas.
Feeling like the elephant in the room
I’ve definitely sat in meetings feeling like the one that doesn’t belong, listening to things I either knew nothing about or didn’t remember knowing anything about. It can feel like you are in a fog with things going on around you – a very surreal experience. Thankfully as I got up to speed the feeling of being the odd one out did diminish. A year off corporate life is a long time and a lot will have happened, normally people that love their jobs and are more than happy to spend the time getting you up to speed.
People have caught up or got promoted
Obviously. Because they’ve been in the office for the year you haven’t. I had a baby, that’s my promotion, the other people did something else! If you have maternity cover that is more junior than you then they will have spent the year in your shoes and will have progressed. It’s definitely an interesting place to return to and as with everything above for a while, you might feel a little behind. I just had to suck it up, it was a little awkward to start with but people remind me when they see me that they value having me back. I’m already finding though that I can look at things and add value like I used to, or ask the difficult questions. Progression is daily as you catch up for missed time!
So important, even when the office dress code is ‘dress for your day’ meaning suits aren’t needed. I have to say I was a little annoyed our dress code changed as I love my work dresses and heels, so I will still be wearing them when I can! I could now wear the same clothes as I wear with the baby, but it’s best not. His milk, snot, food etc isn’t needed in the office, it just tends to land somewhere unnoticed. I’ll have to get dressed for work though after he’s had his breakfast because otherwise, I’m running the gauntlet!
And now when the alarm clock goes off in the morning it isn’t greeting me with a smile and a gurgle. Many a day the alarm clock goes off before baby wakes and I don’t actually see him until the evening. As hard as a baby alarm clock ringing at all hours has been it’s the most rewarding type of alarm – to fix the baby’s problem, see his smile and the rise and fall of his snoozing frame. Sadly the alarm clock that tells me to get out of bed and get ready for work is one of the most vicious there is.
But for all the challenges, my enduring feeling at the moment is that I am supported. I’m in a new gang or club that previously I knew nothing about. The parents that I work with have swept me up and when I’m struggling with baby brain, remembering the right word, frustrated with something, they understand why and help me get it right. I have learnt too much from the other mums that I have been speaking to that had a baby and came back to work and have continued to climb the ladder. It’s really positive to hear, about their challenges of course but more so about how they dealt with them and make it work. Everyone says I need to make my choices and draw my lines in the sand. I will be drawing on the support of this new gang as I properly get my feet under the table and get fully back up to speed.