Leaving work to welcome a new one into the world is a bit different from taking a week off to relax. It's a life-changing event, that can be physically and mentally exhausting. It can take months before you feel ready to return to work afterwards. And in an age where evenly shared parental leave is becoming more common, both mums and dads can find themselves away from the workplace for months at a time.
You'll be returning to the office as a new person, with new responsibilities, and a new identity. Things will be different. Your schedule will have changed and you've got new responsibilities to balance. So go easy and give yourself some time to adjust.
Making the first few weeks back on the job free from stress is essential for the well-being of both the new parent and their company. For the benefit of both, we’ve put together a handy guide to parental leave laws, plus a few tips on how to make your comeback a relatively smooth transition.
Know your rights
UK law states that any employee who takes parental leave has the right to return to the same job they left. However, if you take more than 26 weeks of maternity leave, 26 weeks of shared parental leave, or over four weeks of unpaid parental leave, your employer is only obliged to offer you a similar role but with the same terms and conditions. If you refuse to take this role, it can be viewed as resignation.
Your redundancy rights remain the same as if you were in full-time employment, and as a rule, your employment terms and conditions will be protected. This means you’re still eligible for any pay rises or improvements in conditions, and pension contributions only usually stop if the leave is unpaid.
A phased return
You're legally entitled to work up to 10 days during your paternal leave. These are optional and are called ‘keeping in touch' days. They're a great way to find your feet and keep your foot in the door before you commit to returning full-time.
However, many parents find a gradual return, with part-time hours at first, makes juggling their home and work life easier. This is often a perfect way to help you focus and prioritise your attention before making the move to full-time hours.
Some folks reckon that a phased return suggests a lack of commitment or ambition to the company, and you should dive in 100% as soon as possible. We think that's a load of rubbish - as long as you're being open and honest about your needs, any decent employer will be understanding.
Practice makes perfect
Returning to work after a period of parental leave involves a big change for both you and your baby. To make these times easier it’s advisable to do a few dry runs when it comes to the logistics of childcare.
You don't want your first day back on the job to be the first time your baby is in the care of its new nursery or child-minder. So before returning to work, ensure your child gets used to the routine of being away from you for an extended period with their new carer. This'll give you some reassurance that they're content, so you don't have to worry while you're at work.
Slow and steady wins the race
Be prepared. Your return to the workplace won't be without hiccups. A good employer will realise this and make exceptions. You're only human, and at first, your emotions might be all over the place. So communication is vital here - if you need your employer to be more flexible, then talk to them!
If you're having a bad day or get overwhelmed - talk it out. Any decent manager will understand your position, and be willing to discuss different ways of accommodating you.
The first year after your child’s birth is a uniquely special time where lifelong bonds are formed and treasured memories are made. The day you finally have to leave your bundle of joy at home and come back to the office can be a daunting one, even for the most career-driven employee. Returning to work after parental leave is no walk in the park, but if done with the right attitude and support, it can be the beginning of a fantastic new phase in life.