Today I want to introduce you to another new associate coach here at The Hobbs Consultancy, Lisa Westbury:-

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Lisa helps women to discover their focus and unlock their own flavour of creativity. As a certified co-active and career transition coach, she offers a warm and encouraging space in which women can clarify their career ambitions and impact, improve confidence and work out how to make a difference. Lisa helps women to discover their focus and unlock their own flavour of creativity. As a certified co-active and career transition coach, she offers a warm and encouraging space in which women can clarify their career ambitions and impact, improve confidence and work out how to make a difference. 

It is my pleasure to hand over to Lisa to share her wisdom…

‘When I returned to work after my first daughter I was unprepared for what it would feel like and what I would find when I got there. I was lucky to have a very supportive line manager, a challenging but manageable portfolio and some familiar faces. I had taken a whole year out, and so the agenda had moved on a bit. But the trickiest bits were rooted in the emotional stuff, how I responded to the attitudes of some of the senior people and the pressure I put myself under. Everything appeared to be the same, and was also somehow different.

Since then, I have shared experiences with a number of other women in both personal and professional settings. I’ve discovered that having a baby is not only a time of potentially confusing thoughts and somewhat alarming emotions but also an opportunity for deep reflection and re-calibration. Many women come out of it with a new purpose, a shift in priorities or a re-energised hunger to make their work worthwhile. At the very least it can be an opportunity to try different perspectives and ways of being at work.

Why preparing helps
Although you can’t prepare for everything, you can start to sort out what is important and what is not important for you in this phase of your life, and cultivate the mind-set that is going to best serve you in the coming months, perhaps years. This conscious decision making brings issues into sharper focus and puts you on the front foot in negotiations with yourself and others.

The borderland between work and home, that fuzzy territory between the two worlds may have shifted its features and customs. For instance what personal information do they now need at work and what working information does your family need at home? What roles and skills do you perform in either world which could be used across them both? When does work get done at home and when do home tasks need to be considered at work? What are the hard boundaries you want to keep?

Some of this will be affected by your office culture and norms, and you may feel differently about this now  and again in the first year or two after returning. It’s important to have a strong sense of your inner compass so that you can feel steady, less blown about by others and more able to be yourself as you re-enter the workplace.

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Manager communication
This inner compass is particularly important in negotiating with managers about your job role and working arrangements. Studies show that returning women commonly experience difficulties communicating with their managers. If your work does not have “keep in touch” mechanisms for maternity leave, then initiate them yourself.

Arrange a conversation about expectations with your manager at least a month before you go back so you both have space to resolve any problems.  Prepare for that by getting clear about values and priorities, where you can be flexible and what flexibilities you can ask for in return. It is in everybody’s interests to make this work.

The confidence issue
I have yet to meet the woman who returns to work with her confidence perfectly intact. It is completely normal to have forgotten what you were good at, or even the name of your former boss (in my case). Unrealistic expectations of yourself and negative self-talk only undermine you even further. Rehearsal of what you are good at and really enjoy doing are good antidotes.

Another set of confidence shakers in those first few weeks is the emotional impact of leaving your baby, concerns about childcare arrangements, feeding, tearfulness and tiredness. This is completely normal and, with gentle attention to what you and your family are feeling and need, this should settle down.  Sharing your feelings with friends, family and peers inside or out of work can be enormously helpful in getting you through the early months.

Finding balance
If it wasn’t on your mind before, then balance is likely to be on the agenda for the rest of your working life. I don’t say this to frighten you, only to remind you that what creates balance shifts with your circumstances and priorities in every phase of your life and it will need regular review.

Setting realistic expectations with your manager and with your family for the transition, and fierce prioritisation will help you to get what’s really important done. Notice what gives you energy, try to plan challenging or creative work sensibly around your best times of day, and be realistic about what you can achieve when your energy is low.

Happiness bottom

So for those sleep deprived mums who would like it spelled out simply – here is my five point plan for managing the transition.

Build confidence by asking three friends and former colleagues for feedback on your personal and professional strengths.  Choose the ones which feel most true and keep them close at hand.

Tackle overwhelm and guilt by focussing on what is really important now and de-prioritising/delegating what is not. Doing a few good things well each day is better than attempting everything badly.

Manage your energy levels by taking care of your emotional and physical health and planning your most challenging tasks for the best parts of your day

Seek support from your peers and friends. Voicing your concerns and knowing that others are tackling similar issues is immensely reassuring. They will also have valuable ideas

And finally be realistic and compassionate with yourself. You don’t have to be all things to all people or achieve perfection. Know what is good enough and learn to let go.’

Please pass this on to a pregnant women or returning Mum you know to support her in managing this transition. We offer both maternity coaching to individuals and within organisations. Is there anyone at your organisation you could introduce us to, so that your company provides more support for returning Mums?

Please contact hannah@thehobbsconsultancy.com for maternity coaching enquiries or bookings.