Moving through parental leave

Moving through parental leave transitions can be an interesting time for many expectant and new parents.  Below are some hints and strategies to help make this as smooth as possible.

Keeping in touch

You’ve had the morning tea and headed off on parental leave, and the workplace and your role as an employee may seem like a far distant memory. However, whether you are receiving paid or unpaid parental leave, you are still an employee. Staying in contact with your colleagues and your employer is important for making your transition through leave a more positive experience.

While you don’t need to know every small detail, you might want to specify the level of contact you would prefer, such as monthly newsletters or significant announcements. If you’re able to drop into work during your leave and catch up with colleagues, this can also help to make your transitions through leave easier and less abrupt. You can use some of your Keeping in Touch days, which are part of your parental leave entitlement, for this purpose. For more information about Keeping in Touch days, refer to the resources available at Fair Work Australia.

Managing communication during paternity leave

In addition to face to face contact, if there are important changes such as restructures or other changes that are likely to impact your return, you should be given this information in writing.

There should also be a contact person, either from HR or a manager, who you can talk to about the likely impact on you and your role. Many employers and managers are very receptive to these conversations. They understand that staying in contact has a positive pay-off in a more sustainable and positive return to the workplace.

As a manager I try to keep in touch when the person is on maternity leave, and sometimes I get the feeling they are struggling, and then they don’t end up coming back, or they are off work a lot.

Your employer, and particularly your direct manager and HR team, may have processes in place. Other parents are also likely to understand your transition and may have suggestions or just be a great sounding board. Remember though, that your journey is unique. You may find your experience is similar or very different to that of your colleagues and friends. You may also find your that your current experience changes from your first pregnancy to second and subsequent pregnancies.

Assess your options and be open to changes

During your parental leave period, the nature of the changes in your life may be profound. This time may trigger many challenging thoughts for you.

The transition of taking on a new role as a mother and parent may for a period entirely displace your previous professional identity. It can also take some time to come to terms with your dual roles. This is normal. Talking to other women who have managed this transition may help you to find your own story, and to consider practical elements of how you want to integrate work and life, particularly as you start to consider returning to work.

The assumption that your life will continue as before might require some challenging, as you will have a different set of responsibilities and demands on your time and energy. For many women, becoming a parent can trigger new attitudes towards working full-time, part-time or not at all. Parenthood may change your willingness to travel or work extended hours, and different career aspirations. Keep your options open with your employer and partner, and have open and honest conversations around your priorities. Doing so is likely to be helpful as you sort through your values, needs and desires and discuss the impact of any changes.

Keep your skills current during parental leave

Are you are planning to take an extended period away from work (i.e., several years)? Then it may be important to think about how you will maintain your skills. Read journals or newspapers if you are in the business world. Look at design or inspiration boards if you are in the creative industries. Contract or freelance work and short courses may be practical ways of keeping your skills current. Keep in touch with professional colleagues and contacts while you’re on parental leave. This will be important to make your transition back to work less stressful and keeping your professional reputation alive. If you need to retain registration in your field, enquire about non-practicing registrations. These are usually a reduced rate, but maintain your registration during this period.

Check-list for moving through parental leave

  • Maintain active communication in person and via email with your workplace.
  • Accept that your plans may change during this period of transition and keep your options open.
  • Keep your skills current if you are taking extended leave.

Find out about coping with the transition back to working parent.