Career Transitions can be challenging: entering and exiting the workforce, stepping into leadership, changing industries and/or organisations. The career transition often overlooked in our career planning is returning to work after having a baby.
Speaking from personal experience, returning to work after taking time out to care for a child can be filled with both excitement and anxiety. The journey is unique for each parent and so are the challenges and opportunities.
Full-time parenting, while fulfilling and important, can have an impact on one's sense of identity and value. Like me, you may have spent more hours than you care to admit daydreaming about using your "grown-up brain" and having daily adult contact again. On the other hand, your sense of "parental guilt" might be kicking in, and you could be wondering how you're going to be both a great parent and a high performing employee when you go back to work.
This is why it's important to negotiate the very best return-to-work package you can, either prior to going on parental leave (if you are planning to return to the same position) or when looking for a new job (if you've taken an extended career break).
Here's what you need to think about when taking this step:
1. Know Your Rights
- Return to your previous position or, if that role no longer exists, to an available position for which you are qualified
- Request flexible working arrangements, if your child is of school age or younger
- Request a shorter leave period
- Be protected against discrimination due to pregnancy, breastfeeding, or family responsibilities
- Be protected against bullying and harassment.
2. Know Your Worth
Once you know your rights, the next step is to know your worth so you will have the confidence you need to negotiate effectively. Especially for those of us who have taken a longer career break to care for your family, returning to the workplace can feel daunting. Technology changes and new skills are needed to gain and keep that competitive edge.
A great way to ease into your return-to-work transition is to think about your direct and transferable skills. Engaging a career coach is a great way to work out which skills you have and which skills you need to improve in order to increase your bargaining power at the negotiation table. Once you've worked this out, you can take some tangible steps toward increasing your skill set. This might include doing a course at TAFE or university or doing voluntary work in your preferred industry - which, incidentally, is a fantastic way of building up your contacts and getting free skills training.
You can also complement your technical skills competence with assertiveness training and other ways to build up your self-esteem. Your ability to portray yourself as a valuable employee - and truly believing it - will be the icing on the cake when you step up to the bargaining table.
3. Negotiate with Finesse
After building up your skills and confidence, and applying for jobs in your desired field, it's time to negotiate for the best job you can get. This means more than just what a job pays; while salary is important, other perks like flexible hours can be worth more than you know when you're juggling work and parenting. When you've interviewed successfully and you have been offered a job, this is the time to ask your future employer some tough questions about how employees with parenting duties are treated and accommodated. It's tempting to take the first offer you get, but remember that you are giving your future employer a valuable chunk of your life and you are entitled to certain things in return.
Most of all, have confidence in your own self-worth. If your new employer isn't willing to pay you what you're worth, chances are they won't treat you as you're worth either once you're on the job. An acquaintance of mine said, "I remember feeling so value-less returning to work after a long career break to care for my child. I was grateful to be offered a job paying just above minimum wage despite being a highly qualified professional. Looking back, if I were to do it again, I'd wait 24 hours after the job offer and then ask for far more than what they offered as the first step in negotiating a fair salary."
Returning to work after caring for a family can be daunting, so consider getting some help. Build your skills, remember what you are worth, and you can negotiate your way to a fulfilling career. Most importantly, be gentle on yourself, as some days will be challenging, but what a full life we're leading.