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Baby Matters

From Changing Diapers to Changing Careers: Going back to work after a maternity leave

January 3rd, 2017

Photo by Viewpoint Photography Edmonton

By Elvira Berezowsky

The transition from a maternity leave, to reentering the workforce, is a major change for everyone involved, be it mother, partner, or children.  

According to Avra Davidoff, Workplace Psychologist and co-author of the publication “Making it Work!  How to effectively navigate maternity leave career transitions,” one of the biggest concerns women have, when coming back to work after becoming a parent, is based on negative perceptions by those around them.

“Often, women are dealing with assumptions by others of their capacity and abilities now that they are a parent,”  Davidoff explains.  “These assumptions can come from friends, families, even colleagues.  But often, these assumptions are not based on fact.”

In fact, Davidoff found in her research that mothers returning to the workforce now possessed valuable skills that they may not have had before leaving.  

“When people think of ‘change’ in the workplace, they usually think of themselves as a ‘job description’, rather than their actual skills.”  

Many of these new, parent-learned skills include increased efficiency and productivity during work hours, better time management and task skills, as well as an ability to adapt quickly to change situations.

Preparing for Change

For new mom, Paige Epler, the transition back to her full-time career as a communications advisor started when her daughter was six months old.  At that time, they began looking into daycares and dayhomes in their neighbourhood. “We have really tried to be proactive.  We heard that it was hard to get into daycare, so we started looking early at all our options.  In the end, we visited five or six daycares and went with our gut.  The daycare we chose had hours that matched our workday, so that was great.”

Epler was also pro-active about the transition back into her full-time position at work. “I contacted my employer at the nine-month point to talk to them about returning because I wanted to make sure I covered all the bases.  I also discussed with them what my position would look like, once I came back.”

Davidoff and her colleagues suggest that mothers talk with their employers to create a “Return to Work Plan” to help employees with the re-onboarding and reintegration process, once their maternity leave is complete.  This plan can include:
• Date of return
• When the employee will notify the employer to confirm their return date (often 6-weeks prior, or more)
• Schedule of any communications or meetings the employee should be a part of, throughout their maternity leave
• Additional training that may be needed leading up to their start date, or once they return
• Career opportunities available within the organization
• Work schedule
• Changes to roles and responsibilities

Managing the practical aspects of returning to work can also create a lot of change within households. The more planning a family can do, leading up to mom returning to work, can also help ease some of the anxiety that everyone may be feeling, in the weeks to come.

Coordinating responsibility with partners, family members, or helpful friends for shuttling a child or children to and from child care, meal planning, household errands, and even managing children’s sick days, are just some of the logistics that can be solved by creating a plan, in advance.


Changing Careers

Coming back from a maternity leave can be an opportunity.  With the changing needs of organizations, as well as the changing needs of employees, the ability to make a lateral shift in one’s career to a new position can be a welcome change. Creating a flexible work environment happens more and more in the workforce and it is not out of the ordinary to find employees doing “Telework” from home, job-sharing with others in your department, and even flexible work hours are all ways to help strike a healthy work/life balance.

In their report, Davidoff and her team offer this advice for negotiating a flexible work situation.  “When developing a plan for alternative work arrangements, ensure that you take the time to consider not only your needs, but also the needs of your employer.  While you may be requesting flexible arrangements because of reasons related to your personal life, focus the conversation on the topic of work and appeal to the bottom-line concerns of your employer.”

Some women are also choosing to use their maternity leave time to begin working for themselves.  More and more, the term “Momtrepreneur” is used to describe a mother who has started her own business.   This can cover a number of opportunities for moms, and can encompass everything from buying an existing small business to starting a company completely from scratch.

“If you are considering a big career change, try to do some reflection and thought before your maternity leave ends.” Davidoff counsels.  “Speak to a career counselor to help you navigate your options.  Do some networking and talk to other people who have made this change already to gather more information before you make a decision.”

Every Career Path is Different

“Career choices are very dynamic. Each person needs to make their own decision on their career path,” Davidoff shared. “Many women we spoke to wanted to go back after maternity leave, to be engaged and involved in other things outside the home.”

While some people may be anxious to go back to work, there are also people who may choose to modify their work schedules, or stay at home completely, based on circumstances, family finances, or personal choice.

“Childcare is expensive but the decision to return to work was not always a financial one,” states Davidoff.  “Women we spoke to also looked at whether it would be more difficult to re-enter their careers later; even considering the financial cost of upgrading their education later.”

There is no one path to get to the place you would like to be, in your career or in your life. Managing the change from maternity leave back into the workforce has become a normal occurrence in many women’s careers.  Being prepared for this change is just one step to get back on your personal career journey.

To download a free copy of the publication:

“Making it Work!  How to Effectively Navigate Maternity Leave Career Transitions

(An Employee Guide)

visit the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling at

Elvira Berezowsky is an Edmonton writer, arts-educator, and mom who particularly loves “Family Adventure Days” with her husband and kids.

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