Get your WORK MOJO BACK
Worried about returning to work after having a baby? Follow our simple steps to ease the transition
For many mums, the last few weeks of maternity leave can be a daunting time. If you’re going back to work, you are probably focused on the logistics – starting your baby in day care, having a busier morning routine or perhaps a longer commute. But there’s another consideration, too. What if you’re feeling less confident about doing your job?
The reality is, you’re still you, only more capable than ever, and now you are a whiz at multi-tasking. This is all about self-confidence.
According to research by Australian website Career Mums (www.careermums. com.au), a lack of confidence is consistently featured in the top three barriers women face when going back to work. It is very common for mums to experience a lack of self-confidence when it comes to their careers and the prospect of returning to work, and happens simply because they have been removed from the workplace for a period of time.
“You’ve been out of doing what you do, so it’s natural to think ‘Can I still do this?’” says career coach Jessica Chivers, author of Mothers Work! (Hay House, available on www.fishpond.com.au). “You’ve been away, and the rest of the team has been there working. Feeling vulnerable in that situation is very normal and very human.”
Women have a tendency to dismiss maternity leave as time off, when it’s anything but. In fact, it’s a positive enhancement to your skills set. “We need to think about changing our thinking from ‘I’m on the back foot, I’m rusty’ to ‘I’m fresh, I’m an asset, and I’m coming back with ideas and perspectives that everyone else doesn’t have, because they’ve been here for the last 12 months’,” Jessica explains.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in November 2011, 53 per cent of mothers with a child under two had returned to the workforce, so rest assured if you’re going back to work after having a baby, there are hundreds of thousands of women doing the same thing!
Here are some ways to prepare yourself emotionally before you return to work.
SEE YOURSELF AS A CONFIDENT PERSON
Choose five words that describe who you want to be at work – how you want your boss and colleagues to see you. Then close your eyes and visualise yourself doing the things that person would do. Picture how you would speak, walk and move. Visualise yourself in a meeting and imagine your boss congratulating you on your work, then keep running through the scene – just as professional athletes improve their performance by imagining themselves on the winner’s podium.
“Research shows mental rehearsal is almost as effective as physical rehearsal in terms of improved performance,” Jessica says. “Think about who you want to meet in your first week back and what you want to say and ask. For instance, if you want to be seen as knowledgeable, ask someone what they think about something that’s hot news in your industry right now. Make sure you share your opinion and how you’ve come to your view.
LIST YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS
Write down everything you did well before you went on maternity leave. List your achievements and your strengths, making it as detailed as possible. Now read it back. How does that person look on paper? Like a high-performing employee – someone the employer is looking forward to having back! You may forget your PC password on day one, but the skills that enabled you to achieve all of your successes go deeper than that, and they haven’t gone anywhere.
“When you return to work, make a note of three things that went well that day, why they happened and how these things could have a positive knock-on effect,” Jessica says. “Writing them down, rather than just thinking about them, means you will linger for longer on the experiences, and embed them in your memory.”
CHALLENGE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK
There’s a little voice that many of us hear from time to time – the one that says ‘You’re not good enough’ or ‘You’ve forgotten everything’. The trick to dealing with this negative self-talk is to name it and challenge it.
Ask yourself if your thoughts are based on facts or just your own interpretation? What’s the worst that could happen? And will it matter in six months or a year? The quickest fix is to immediately follow a negative thought with ‘Well, is that really true?’ The answer in most cases is a resounding ‘No’.
“Instead of focusing on potential problems and catastrophic fantasies, ask yourself ‘What’s the best that could happen when I go back to work?’” Jessica says.
“When we think about the most extreme positive possibilities, we sit up straighter, walk taller and feel more resourceful. The gremlin voices sound less credible when you’re in that state.”
REMEMBER YOURSELF AT YOUR BEST
A key confidence-boosting trick is to think about a time when you were excelling at work. “Bring to mind a time when you were performing really well,” Jessica says. “Think ‘I was capable of that, I can do it again’.
“The next step is to ask yourself what strengths were you using there? What conditions were in place and how can you re-create them? Then ask yourself, how do I re-create the conditions that enable me to have complete focus?
“You need to be really clear with your manager about what they want from you in the first six weeks you are back, then knuckle down and get some quick wins,” Jessica says. By remembering that you performed well when you were focused, and creating the conditions to become focused, you increase your confidence and ability to perform well again.
DON’T WRITE OFF MATERNITY LEAVE
Remember, you’re even more capable now you’re a mum. Focus on the important and useful skills – such as patience, teamwork and delegation – that you’ve honed while you’ve been away from work, caring for and bringing up your baby.
“Think about those skills you have learned to do well and how you can bring them to bear in the work environment,” Jessica suggests. “When we are on maternity leave, we learn so much about empathy and really understanding someone else’s needs. Teamwork is also a really powerful skill, because we realise that we can’t do everything ourselves.”
A key confidence-boosting trick is to think about a time when you were excelling at work.