Her face is bright with makeup neatly applied. She is donning a power suit and breezes into the office with a smile on her face.
With her computer slowly firing up, she makes her second coffee of the day and exchanges pleasantries with her team as she flicks her hair behind her ear, catching a whiff of her own sweet perfume she remembered apply. She looks and feels great and she’s ready to take on the world.
This is the perfect start to the perfect mum’s first day back in her job after maternity leave.
It’s a breeze. She’s had the last 9 months off to adjust to becoming a mother, bonding beautifully with her child and now she’s back. Refreshed and prepared.
Or is she?
That’s how it appears to me anyway and I should know, I’ve been her line manager for the last 10 years.
But what’s beneath her confident exterior? Should I ask? Should I check how she’s feeling? She looks like she’s got everything sewn up, sooooo…why rock the boat right?
But…I don’t know…Sometimes I see a little bit of fear in her eyes. Little flashes. I decide to casually check on her. But perhaps I’ll do that towards the end of the week when it’s less busy. I have a lot on and lots of other staff to manage. Then there’s my own targets!
But then…I see her at the water cooler and take my chance.
I say “I don’t know how you do it. It must be hard. I would feel so guilty leaving my kids!”
She says “It IS hard and exhausting. I don’t know how I do it. I don’t know how any of us do it. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
And that’s when I notice….
Her mascara is smudged. Her eyes well up as she looks away from me. Her fingernails look painful and sore as I noticed the document she’s holding. It’s her CV.
I say “I didn’t realise – “
She interrupts “Why would you…you haven’t asked me how I am. You haven’t checked on whether I need some help. No one has told me about the change in the hot desk system. No one has noticed that I’ve worked through my lunch each day. You haven’t asked so I haven’t told you. Why would I?
As she’s hitting me with every ounce of emotion, I feel her pain shoot out and strike me. She’s getting louder and louder and I notice she’s shaking…tears flowing down her flush red cheeks. She’s not just upset and exhausted. She’s angry.
Suddenly I get this image of Susan standing there like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, loading an AK47 magazine.
This vision disappears within seconds, but it’s just enough time to realise Susan has left the room in a whirlwind, as the door slowly closes behind her.
Now everyone is looking at me and I know I have messed up. What could I have done?
Even after a new working mother, like Susan, ticks all the standard HR policy boxes, she’s often met with unforeseen challenges and roadblocks that impede a smooth transition back to her former professional self. And unfortunately, they get good at hiding these from their managers and colleagues, just like Susan has.
Somewhat indirectly (and at times directly), companies insist that mums set up their life in a way that revolves around their job. At the same time, managers think they’re helping by withholding invitations to meetings and events, but in reality, this only adds to the sense of not being perfect and falling short of their duties.
In some organisations, working mums are expected to be flexible and available for evening meetings, work to weekend deadlines, and drop everything for a priority client. Yet when someone like Susan requests the same flexibility in return, it can leave employers and even colleagues wondering if they’re even up for the job.
Thankfully, there is a solution. I have designed an online workshop which provides you with a complete overview of what to consider before, during and after your staff member’s maternity journey. This is for you if you’re thinking…
- “What kind of conversations should I be having so I don’t stick my foot in it?”
- “How can I get the best out of my returning staff member and be a good leader?”
- “Is there something I can implement that will help them stay focused and productive?”
- “How can I ensure Susan will return happy and stay happy?”
- “How do I tell Susan she’s now working in a different team?”