Eight tips for a smoother return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic

If you are on maternity leave during 2020, things probably aren’t going quite as you had planned.

The baby groups and classes you had intended to join may have moved online if they are running, and thoughts of whiling away the hours in a café with other new mums are but a distant memory.

You will probably also be missing ‘in person’ support from family and friends as well as introducing your new arrival to them but may have had more support than anticipated if your partner is working from home or furloughed. 

But there are some positives to having a baby in lockdown – nobody will have known if you have spent all week in your pjs, you haven’t had to keep your house in some semblance of tidy for the benefit of visitors and we have been allowed to go out for walks to get fresh air (sometimes in our pjs but who’s counting).

If you are feeling conflicted in your thoughts and feelings when thinking about returning to work, you are not alone. Even during ‘normal times’ I hear lots of different thoughts and feelings from clients such as feeling daunted yet excited, worrying about balancing work and home life or how to find time for yourself.

At the moment these feelings are compounded by concerns around the safety of returning to work and the ongoing issue of childcare provision.

One of the mothers I am currently working with said she feels that her maternity leave, which is her last planned, has been stolen from her. So, you may also be feeling a sense of grief at what you have lost if you are in a similar position.

If you are a key worker returning to the front line you will be thinking of how you manage the risk of potentially passing Covid to your family, and how you organise childcare as a result.

At the other end of the spectrum, your ‘return to work’ might be turning on your work laptop at home and joining the population of working parents trying to juggle work and childcare.

With so much uncertainty around at the moment I thought it would be useful to put together some tips to support you at this time. I hope you find them useful.

1) Check in with how you’re feeling regularly

Returning to work after maternity leave is an emotional time at the best of times. Being aware of your emotions makes them easier to manage.

Try not to put together plans for your return to work in the evening when tiredness exacerbates sleep deprivation and makes any chance of logical thinking as likely as drinking a hot cup of tea.

2) Write down any concerns

Once you’ve got them down on paper it makes them easier to deal with and helps you to stay in the present and enjoy the time you have at home with your new baby. Or sleep, because it’s hard to get enough of that without worries keeping you awake!

3) Make a plan

With things starting to open up, what would you like to do out and about before you return to work? You may not have had the chance to do everything you wanted to while on maternity leave but there will still be time to make some memories.

4) Get help at home if you are feeling swamped

Prioritise what really needs to be done and don’t try and tackle it all yourself. Be realistic about what you can manage each day and ask for help from your husband/partner or older children – it’s a great way to start teaching children a good work ethic.

5) Look after yourself

It’s hard with everyone at home but try to find even half an hour for yourself to keep up your exercise, go for a walk on your own, have a read in the bath or whatever you enjoy doing to relax.

It’s even easier to lose sight of yourself when your days don’t have as much variety as they would normally.

6) Keep in touch with your work / manager

This is especially important at the moment as guidelines are being regularly updated. Many companies are providing regular updates as to the latest plans with regards to workplace openings while others are making plans to offer permanent flexible working.

7) Allow plenty of time to plan your return to work.

It takes time to negotiate any changes to your working pattern and how you will manage childcare alongside work.

Once you have worked out what you would like your return to look like, speak to your manager informally to start with before making a formal request and always email a confirmation of conversations afterwards so you are both on the same page.

8) Seek help if needed

It is an unprecedented (sorry to use the overused word here but it is true) time to return to work after maternity leave, and likely to be a more emotional time than during ‘non-covid’ times.

Speak to your friends, family or your GP if you find you’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed.

Wishing you a safe return to work!

Need more advice?

For the latest guidelines on working safely during the Covid pandemic, see Gov.uk Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19).

Working Families and Maternity Action also have great information on pregnancy and maternity leave during the current time.

Don’t just survive your return to work after maternity leave, thrive! Frances Cushway is The Maternity Coach and works with mothers before, during and after maternity leave to help you prepare for and plan a confident return to work and ongoing career.

Photo by Katie Emslie