Returning to Work after Taking Parental Leave: 10 Top Tips

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Parental leave is an employee benefit that entitles parents to take extended time off work to enjoy adjusting to home life with their new child. It's common for many parents to experience a range of emotions when it comes time to return to work. Having an awareness of some practical strategies for how to return to work after parental or maternity leave can help you with the process. In this article, we discuss what parental leave is and share some top tips that can help ensure a smooth return to work.

What is parental leave?

Parental leave entitlements allow eligible employees time off work when welcoming a new child to their family and home – this includes both birth and adoption. This employee benefit can provide job security as parents have a right to return to their position at the end of their extended leave period. Several factors can determine the exact terms of your approved parent leave. These factors may include your type of employment, your length of service and whether you've previously made use of parental benefits. The minimum legal provisions for parental leave are outlined in the National Employment Standards (NES), however these may be less than those provided by your employment contract or industry award, so it pays to check.

Related: Your Guide to the Types of Employee Benefits

10 tips for returning to work

The primary focus of many new parents is to create an environment in which their new child can thrive. Returning to work can mean releasing some parenting responsibilities to another caretaker. For some parents, this can be a challenging process to navigate. Below, you can find some tips that can help you find the balance between caring for your young child and operating efficiently when you return to work:

1. Connect with your office

Before returning to work, it may be helpful to reconnect with your colleagues. Doing this can reopen the lines of communication and help you feel at ease before your first day back. There are several ways you could reconnect, which can include:

  • sending an email to your team members to let them know when you're returning to work and looking forward to seeing them again

  • initiating a video chat with your manager or a small group of select employees to introduce them to your baby

  • scheduling a time to have lunch with colleagues you work closely with to introduce them to your child

  • attending a staff meeting before your official return to work to reconnect with your team and receive any updates on the current work environment.

Under the NES, an employee on unpaid parental leave gets 10 paid keeping in touch days, which can be used as needed and can provide a way of easing back into the job.

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2. Talk to your employer

Many employers are completely aware of the complexity of emotions that come with returning to work after taking time off to spend with a new family member. Scheduling a meeting with your employer before returning to work can help you understand their expectations of you upon your return to work. Doing this can also allow you to outline your expectations of your employer, for example, requirements for breast-feeding or pumping.

You may require a change to your working hours to accommodate the additional responsibilities of welcoming a new child to your family. Employees returning to work after maternity leave may request flexible working arrangements. Flexible arrangements may include working part-time, adjusting your start and finish times to accommodate childcare hours, or working from home.

Related: How to Write a Meeting Agenda: Template and Example

3. Arrange child care

Before returning to work, it's essential to have a solid plan in place for the care of your child during your working hours. This might mean enrolling your child in a childcare centre or employing the help of a friend or family member for child-minding. It may be beneficial to arrange child care in advance, as many childcare centres may have waiting lists. You can consider enrolling a few months before you plan to return to work to ensure your child gets a position.

Arranging child care ahead of your return to work date can ease the pressure on you and your child. It can also allow you to develop trust with the new caregiver by ensuring you are both familiar with the new environment and routine.

Related: 30 Child Care Interview Questions and Answers

4. Get organised

Organising yourself before your return to work can help you feel more in control of the process, which may otherwise seem foreign to you. Where possible, develop a routine and keep check-lists to help you keep track of your daily to-dos. It can be a great idea to pack your child's daycare bag and your work bag the night before to help make your mornings easier. Having frozen meals available can be useful for quick meal preparation on returning home.

Organising yourself may help provide you with peace of mind about returning to work and allow you to focus on your tasks upon your return.

Related: Self-Management Skills: Definition and Examples

5. Ask for help

Asking for help can be a great way to help you transition back into your work-life routine. Parenting can come with many extra responsibilities to balance outside of your working hours. Receiving help from family or friends can make a significant difference to your transition back to work. Asking for help could include:

  • arranging for a family member or friend to cook you dinner once a week

  • hiring a cleaner to clean your house while you're at work

  • organising delivery of your weekly groceries

  • asking your family or a friend to collect your child from daycare one day a week.

6. Test your schedule

A good way to prepare for your first day back at work can be to practise your new routine. Doing this can give you a good idea of how much time you require before work to get yourself and your child ready for the day. It can also help you determine how much time to allocate for your commute. Testing your schedule with a practice day can help you arrange and adjust your time accordingly. This can give you confidence in your new routine so you can focus on enjoying your first day back in the office.

7. Think positively

It's often helpful to have realistic expectations for your return to work and ease the pressure on yourself. It's unlikely that your employer expects you to return to your job after taking maternity leave and resume all tasks immediately. If you've been away from your role for a long time, you may likely require a refresh on some processes, especially those that impact you directly.

After taking paternity or maternity leave, some parents may experience a powerful urge to quit their jobs. It's important to be kind to yourself during this process and remember that parenting and working are both rewarding challenges that require a lot from you. Engaging in positive thoughts can help you maintain a positive outlook and mindset. Consider celebrating all small work milestones. These milestones can include sending your first proposal after returning to work or creating a new marketing campaign idea.

8. Find a support network

Broadening your network and finding friends or colleagues in the same position as you can be helpful when returning to work after spending time off with your child. Having a support network can encourage open lines of communication and the ability to relate to others in similar circumstances. There may be other people in your office who are working parents. Consider scheduling lunch breaks at the same time and eating lunch together.

There are also online forums available where you can develop connections with other working parents. Local resources like hospitals, doctors' offices and non-profits may also have information on support groups that cater to working parents.

9. Enjoy the freedom

Some parents can find returning to work overwhelming, but there can be many reasons to enjoy returning to work, including:

  • Adult conversation: Returning to work can provide you with social interaction and adult conversation.

  • Scheduled breaks: At work, you may have scheduled tea or lunch breaks when you can enjoy a hot drink or your food in peace.

  • Time to yourself: Whether you catch the train, the bus or drive yourself to work, the commute can be a good time to enjoy some undisturbed time to yourself. Consider listening to a podcast or music to help calm your mind.

  • New skills: After taking parental leave, it can be refreshing to use your mind to learn something new. Learning a new skill can be a great way to boost your confidence and remind you of your capabilities.

10. Spend quality time with your child

Spending time away from your child may take some adjusting to once you return to work. Making plans to spend quality time together when you're at home can be a great way to ensure you're bonding with one another.

It may be a good idea to schedule a playtime at the park together one morning when you're home or take your child to swimming lessons on the weekends, for example. Ensuring you set time aside each week to spend quality time with your child may help make the time you spend at work easier.

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