Wake-up call

A warm welcome back after maternity?

 

We would all like to believe that when we return from maternity leave, our bosses, colleagues and subordinates would welcome us back, and maybe even demonstrate some patience and supportiveness. Unfortunately, that’s not always what goes down.

Too often, bosses are insufficiently empathic and organisations do not provide enough flexibility.

However, in my own experience, both as a new mother in the corporate world and as an executive coach who has worked with women ascending to senior leadership positions over the past 20 years, I have found that it is peer relationships that are often the toughest to navigate.

There are ample guidelines out there on how to ask your boss for more flexible hours, but a shortage of advice on how to handle a peer who – having covered for you during your leave – won’t give you back your turf. Whether you’re dealing with an untrustworthy rival or simply a co-worker who has gotten used to doing things their way – and seems to be having trouble relinquishing your own duties back to you – it’s important to strategically manage your re-entry, beginning with what you do even before you leave.

Start by thinking strategically about your short- and long-term career goals, as well as your team’s needs. Sometimes a maternity leave presents an opportunity to hand off responsibilities that could help develop more junior colleagues, or a useful excuse to identify tasks to be outsourced or dropped entirely.

Before you leave, meet your boss to discuss expectations and goals for your return. Your boss can help your peers understand that they will only be covering for you temporarily. Immediately before your return, set up a call with your manager and relevant peers to learn about any possible changes to your agreed-upon re-entry plan, and meet them early after your return so you are fully up to date and can approach your “on ramp” back to work with the latest information about what peers are doing and where projects stand.

Work with your colleagues and boss on a timeline for taking over your old projects.

Before, during and after your return, be sure to thank the co-workers who have taken on parts of your job. The reality is that they have had extra work to do, and often their efforts are not rewarded by the organisation. Let them know that you acknowledge their assistance and will endeavour to reciprocate someday.

These measures should help mitigate conflict before it starts, but if there is conflict with a co-worker, weigh the pros and cons of a direct confrontation. If you decide to confront, plan the conversation carefully and get some help in preparing from a trusted friend or supporter. Be clear with yourself regarding what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to put him on notice? Ask her to back off?

First seek to understand his or her point of view, and start from a place of inquiry instead of from a place of acting threatened and defensive. And carefully consider bringing the situation to your boss. – (Copyright Harvard Business Review 2014)

Hilary Pearl is an executive coach and a principal at Dattner Consulting

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