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My responsibilities toward my organization as a returning employee

Jyothi Prabhakar Jyothi Prabhakar 9 Mins Read

Jyothi Prabhakar Jyothi Prabhakar

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If your company owes you maternity leave and a good comeback plan, you’ve got to give back some productive work in return

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My responsibilities toward my organization as a returning employee

Suman R is the HR head of a software MNC’s India arm and she has seen that “newly returned mothers are mostly torn between the guilt of leaving behind a newborn and wanting to prove themselves all over again”. “They (the returning employees) are touchy about performance feedback and sensitive to suggested role changes. Some turn temperamental and colleagues begin to complain. Sometimes we talk her into a profile that she can manage by herself till she settles in. This makes her feel redundant and, in extreme cases, she begins to vitiate the work environment. The company, not wanting women’s rights issues, does give a long rope. But sometimes, we’re forced to ask maternity leave returnees to find work they might enjoy doing elsewhere, where they can give their best,” she says.

Give back the best, that’s the point here. No, you don’t have to turn into a productivity ninja from day one, but that doesn’t mean you go back without a rock-solid personal and career transition plan. The fact is, the work world is so primed up with maternity leave laws and rights (and rightly so), that the other end of the spectrum, which is the company the new mother is returning to, often complains of being left to hold the short end of the stick. Yes, you do have certain rights as a returning employee – the right to return to the same job, to request a change of role and routine, and flexi-work hours among others, but you also have certain responsibilities towards the company as a returning employee. It isn’t something you ‘owe’ the company, it’s something you owe yourself if you plan to have a successful career upon return and want to break a few glass ceilings while you’re at it. Here are six ways to make a go for it:

1. Work on the intent

Often the attitude is, ‘Let me start going to work, we’ll see how it goes’. If you return to work with this mindset, all it will go is downhill. As you near the end of your maternity leave, start asking yourself why you want to go back to work.

  • Is it to supplement family income?
  • It could also be because right now, you feel hemmed in at home and would like to get out?
  • Or perhaps you enjoyed your work so much that you can’t wait to get back?
  • Maybe, you always intended to work post becoming a mother and climb the career ladder?

It’s important to figure out why you would like to get back to work because it’s your responsibility to give your boss a clear picture of how you’d like your career to pan out from here. Your intent is also the foundation for the following point.

2. Set your own work goals first

You’ve got your intent in place, now set goals in accordance with that so that when you have that conversation with your supervisor, you’re clear in your communication and both of you can work out your career growth chart or a suitable alternative.

  • If you only intend to supplement the family income, you could ask for work-from-home projects, a part-time role, or a less-demanding profile. Salary can be re-negotiated, and goals set accordingly
  • However, if you have extended career plans (and kudos for that!), lay them out clearly
  • Ditto if you’ve enjoyed your pre-mommy stint in the office so much that you can’t wait to get back. Let it show.
  • However, visualizing the office as a getaway from being cooped up at home is no reason to go back to work at all. Soon, your responsibilities at work would begin to get to you. To be honest, you need to relook at your priorities.

3. Being honest with your boss about your comeback plans/goals is your responsibility

This one is completely on your shoulders. No beating around the bush here – if you lay it out straight, and your boss or HR doesn’t like it or isn’t amenable to alternative plans, you’d know exactly where you stand. On the other hand, if they do and appreciate your clear thinking, you’ve got their respect. Win-win!

  • Are you willing to take up more responsibilities? Or are you looking at giving up some of your present ones away? Will you be willing to put in late working hours like before? If your job involved traveling earlier, would you still be okay with it? Make a list of your official duties as they existed versus the ones you are looking at taking up now. Talk to your spouse and see how both of you can together manage your respective careers and home. Then, make a final list for a discussion with your boss. If you can, make a two or three-year plan. If you’d like to ease the pace now, but storm the corporate kingdom in a year or two, when you’ve got your mommydom under control, tell them.
  • You must have realized that your priorities have changed during the maternity leave. Bring that to the discussion board. No more late evening networking events, maybe? Is your manager willing to accommodate out-of-the-blue leaves? Draw up an alternate work scenario so that your manager knows that whether you are in the office or at home with your baby, your commitment to work stands true.
  • If you work in a small company, your absence or return will have more impact. Usually, such companies are also more willing to bend backward for you. But what can you do in return? Make this point clear with a well-thought-out presentation. Tell them you’re passionate about carving a career for yourself. Not only will it assure your company of your commitment to work, but it will also help you chart a clear career map for yourself.

4. Take over from your cover, feedback, et al

If you were holding a key account or an important post that couldn’t be left vacant for the duration of your maternity leave (which, in today’s time, might extend even up to a year), chances are your employer has hired a short-term employee to ‘cover’ you. Often, employers hire maternity covers with other long-term roles in mind. Hence, if they were exceptionally good, you may have to grin and sit through their praises, and comparisons. But it’s totally your job to effectively take over whatever they have been doing in your absence.

  • It’s not their fault, so don’t take it out on them. And definitely don’t go with a ‘leave-the-chair-I’m-back’  attitude. Be friendly and engaging, and try to find out why they’re ticking all the right boxes.
  • Find out what ‘extra’ they have been doing. Have they added new processes that have been appreciated? Did they do anything differently? Do they have suggestions for betterment? Have they discovered any flaws in the way you handled things? Has any new duty been added to their portfolio (you might have to inherit it)?
  • An effective handover is your first responsibility towards a successful comeback. If your temp has set up processes and has feedback you can use, don’t discard them without a thought and get back to the old way of working.
  • Another important part of handover is also reconnecting with your colleagues and manager by– having a ‘returning-to-work’ conversation with them. Some of them may have been promoted, crossed personal milestones – hear them out. They might have come to like your replacement, too – try to find what it is they like and admire about him or her.

The worst-case scenario about taking over is dealing with a new boss upon returning – but it’s known to happen. In this case, your boss only knows your replacement’s style of working, not yours, no matter how awesome you were. So, you have new grounds to break here. Armor up!

5. Keep your baby out of water-cooler conversations

Yes, motherhood has been a life-changing experience – but many colleagues have already been there and done that, and made a successful comeback, too. So, while you need to bring them up to date with your new mom-life and the wonderful bundle of joy, curb the urge to:

  • Use every opportunity to gush about your baby
  • Inflict endless baby pictures on everyone
  • Fret loudly about how your baby is missing you
  • Seek/discuss post-natal self-care at every opportunity
  • Turn up to work sloppily dressed with baby feed on your tee
  • Offer advice on how to rear children

Doing all this shows you are distracted by your baby all the time, and you are distracting other employees, too. It’s a good reason for your company to relegate you to the ‘mommy pack’ – a pitfall you must avoid if you’re serious about your career.

6. Lastly, move on, if you must

Among all your responsibilities towards your organization as a returning employee, this is the most critical. You owe yourself and your company a decent exit plan if you’ve tried your best, but your employers just cannot think past your motherhood. Give it two months, six even. Talk to your HR and manager, prove how your recent assignments have shown your commitment to work. If that too fails, don’t settle into the ‘non-productive mom’ label and let frustration erode your career goals. Don’t rant and rail. Accept that unfortunately, some organizations continue to see motherhood as a stigma and that at the moment, it’s better to change your job than try to change the corporate world. So here’s what you can do:

  • Draw up a new CV
  • Tell your company’s HR why you’re looking for a new job
  • Research and find out about organizations that are ‘child friendly’ and apply
  • Keep the exit pleasant and elegant – it will leave the door open for future opportunities
  • Think positive. Look at this as a chance to do something you’ve always wanted to do, explore

Well, President Kennedy wasn't quite meant to fit in here, but remember his “...ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”? Now, replace the ‘country’ with ‘company’ and you have your winning formula right there! Get the drift?

Your Action Plan
  • Take out some ‘me time’ to ruminate over your career goals before rejoining
  • Pick up that phone and set an appointment with your manager for a return-to-work conversation


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