I am nine months into my parental leave journey and have enjoyed all of the ups and downs of becoming a new mum. Until recently, being a mother has been my sole focus. With three months of parental leave to go, I felt it was time to start thinking about what my professional future might look like. So, I contacted my employer, and arranged to use one of my Keeping in Touch days and head into the office.
Something about this process excited me. I had a different kind of purpose and it was nice to put on a bit of makeup, catch the train and actually finish a cup of coffee. Talking strategies, KPIs, focus areas and growth got another part of my brain ticking and it felt good!
I walked out on a high. The anxieties I felt about returning to work started to melt away a little and I began to look forward to my impending return.
This is where the story takes a turn.
With my return to work fast approaching, my follow up emails have gone unanswered. I have not yet received meeting invites to the key meetings we agreed I should attend prior to my return. I have organised childcare based on an agreement that I can return to my role four days a week and now, without explanation, it has turned into a five day a week role. I have swiftly come down from my high and am now feeling only trepidation.
Returning to work is hard enough. I can only imagine that juggling family life and professional life will be even harder. Like many other women, the pressure I put on myself is immense and I know that I will be determined to prove that I am just as effective as I was before, if not more.
Flexible working arrangements, paid parental leave and parental leave programs are a step in the right direction for family friendly workplaces, but a tick the box approach is simply not enough. We need to do more. This is about people, and about families. It is time to effectively educate leaders to ensure that parents on leave are understood, well–managed and valued. Workplace leaders must truly understand the importance of working parents, and wholly support them and their families, to make the progress our society craves.
There is still time for a happy ending for me. Once I am back in the workplace, things might fall into place again. But that’s not the point. I am not feeling valued as an employee or as a person. My confidence has unnecessarily taken a knock, I am left questioning my loyalty—which has, till now, always been rock-solid—and my sense of belonging is gone.
All it will take to turn things around again is a little understanding; and not for my benefit alone. Keeping in touch done right helps organisations avoid losing great talent, maintain a sense of connectedness among staff and create a better work culture overall.
The writer of this story has asked to remain anonymous.