Most new mothers tend to take between 6 and 12 months off work after having a baby, but however long you choose to stay at home, it's not uncommon to begin to feel out of the career loop while on maternity leave.
So, how can you stay engaged with your work life, while looking after your new-born? Here are some tips from the wellbeing experts at CABA , to make sure you don't lose sight of your professional self while on maternity leave:
Keep in touch
Did you know you're allowed to work for up to 10 days while you're on maternity leave without it affecting when your leave ends or maternity leave payments? These days are called keeping in touch (KIT) days. You and your employer must agree to them and the type of work you'll do before your leave starts - as well as how much you'll get paid - as KIT days are optional. You could, for instance, use your KIT days to go on training days or workshops, or to attend meetings or conferences. In fact, you can do any type of work on a KIT day, and you don't even have to work a full day. You may also want to use your KIT days towards the end of your maternity leave to help ease you back into work gradually.
Your employer has a legal right to reasonable contact with you while you're on maternity leave. This means they may get in touch with you by email, letter or phone - or even at a meeting in the workplace. But the definition of ‘reasonable’ can vary from 1 person and workplace to another. Make sure you agree with your employer the amount of reasonable contact and the method of contact before starting your maternity leave. Changed your mind? Don’t worry! The agreement is not set in stone and you can change it (with agreement from your employer) once your leave has begun. Reasonable contact can be positive for employees on maternity leave too. You may want to be updated with things such as changes at work that will affect you, training, work or social events and job vacancies while you're away. Perhaps you also want to receive company newsletters or details of meetings and projects you've been working on, as they can help to make you feel part of your working environment while you're not there, not to mention make your return to work easier.
Learn new skills Despite the fact that looking after a baby is a full-time job in itself, many new mums find it gives them a bit of breathing space to pursue learning opportunities they were too busy to even think about when they were working full-time. You can find details of courses at your local adult education centre or university or try doing an online course that you can complete at your own pace (for instance while your baby's sleeping).
Getting back into work
If you're currently on maternity leave and thinking about returning to work, there are a few important questions you may want to ask yourself first:
Should you work flexibly?
There are several types of flexible working that may be helpful if you need to change your working pattern when you return to work. These include:
· Part-time working
· Working from home
· Job sharing
· Shift swapping
· Compressed hours
· Flexible start and finish times
All employees in the UK have the right to request flexible working if they've worked for their current employer for at least 26 weeks on a continuous basis. But employers can turn down requests if there's a good business reason for doing so. You can find out more about flexible working, whether it’s right for you and how to request it here .
Should you change your job?
Having a baby can make you look at your career differently, and you may feel it's time to take up a new challenge or move in a different direction. As a result, it's not unusual for some new mothers to want a change of career rather than going back to their old job, as their priorities may have changed significantly as a result of being a parent. Ask yourself what you want out of your new career, and whether you have the skills necessary to be successful. If you don't, retraining may be your best option - read our advice about retraining for a new career to find out more.
Should you start your own business?
For some mothers not going back to work at all may be the best option - especially for those who are thinking of setting up their own business and becoming their own boss. According to a survey by Workingmums.co.uk, 58% of mums have considered setting up their own business. In fact, using your time off work after having a baby to start a business is a growing trend, called 'power' maternity leave. And the reason it may be a trend is that many women find being a new mother helps them identify ideas for childcare businesses, where they can put the skills they've already developed in their career to good use. Indeed, the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest more than 800,000 women are self-employed and working part-time, with experts suggesting many so-called ‘mumpreneurs’ set themselves up in business because the added flexibility this gives them helps them fit work around family life.
If you're thinking of changing your job or going self-employed, CABA have further advice to help you weigh up changing careers or starting your own business.