Returning to work


A coaching colleague of mine got back in touch as she’s recently returned to work after a gap of several months (arguably a much tougher assignment spent looking after her baby full-time). I asked her to name her top three challenges in settling back into the workplace in her revised (part-time) role.

#1. Fighting a feeling of guilt at arriving later and leaving earlier than her full-time colleagues. (The agreed hours allow her to negotiate an hour-long commute each way to fit in with childcare arrangements.)

#2. Trying to resist the slight disappointment she feels in not being given some of the ‘meatier’ chunks of work.

#3. Not being overwhelmed by a pressure to ‘know everything’ that’s going on in the office and experiencing a nagging doubt that her skills are not up to speed (despite all evidence to the contrary).

All those feelings rang a bell with me from my own return to work many years ago after a gap to look after my daughter. It seems that we women have a hard time managing our own expectations as well as those of our employers and colleagues. Trying to excel in every part of our lives is exhausting, and we can all too easily end up  doing the ‘double day’ (Luxton, 1980) or the ‘second shift’ (Hochschild, 1989).

I’d suggest three strategies that might be useful in countering these challenges of juggling the dual demands of work and family commitments:

#1. Planning and organisation skills are critical in both areas of your life now. The key is to be realistic about what you can achieve at work and at home. Unrealistic expectations lead inevitably to stress, which helps nobody. Kids are only little for a short time (although it feels like the early years will never end!).

#2. Feeling slight pangs of disappointment at having to slow the pace for a while is natural and understandable. But do cut yourself a little slack – you are doing a difficult thing.

#3. To avoid that uncomfortable feeling of being ‘out of the loop’, find a supportive ally at work who will filter information that you need to know and send it on by email or a brief ‘phone update each week. The friend should be selective enough so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by company stuff at home.

How have you managed the transition back to the workplace after a break – any tips? As an employer, how can returners be re-integrated successfully? I would love to hear your views.


2 thoughts on “Returning to work

  1. i’ve been watching the series ‘women’ on BBCi player, and the recent episode was about motherhood.
    the interesting thing that came out of that episode was that working mothers seem to struggle with guilt more than working fathers – even if they have a full-time nanny! one woman – the author of the felicity wishes kids’ books – had terrible inner conflict although she had a stay-at-home husband!!
    and even the seemingly ‘happier’ (ie less stressed) mothers who stay at home while their husbands work full-time suffer guilt if they have any ‘me-time’…
    are women just more prone to suffer guilt naturally, or is it how we were raised, or society’s expectations of working mother, or perhaps our own expectations…????

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