Supporting your colleagues who are returning to work

Inclusive Employer’s Rosie Clarke, Head of Inclusion and Diversity Services (North) recently returned to the work after maternity leave. In this blog she shares why her transition from maternity leave to Head of I&D Services has gone so smoothly, and how you can learn from her own experiences when employees and colleagues return to work after a long-term period of leave.

Coming back to work, known as ‘returning to work’ should be renamed. I haven’t decided what it should be renamed to yet but what I have decided is I’m not “back”. For those who don’t know me, I’m Rosie, Head of Inclusion and Diversity Services (North) and on 1 September 2021 I returned to Inclusive Employers from maternity leave after having my first baby. I was off work for 8.5 months and my life changed. I changed, my priorities changed, my skills and expertise changed. So, the Rosie that has returned to work isn’t actually the Rosie that left in December 2020. Which is why I dispute the term “back” or “return”. Also, as you will all know, things at Inclusive Employers don’t stand still;­ the team is different, the members and their priorities are different. Maybe coming back to work after an extended period of leave isn’t coming back but instead it’s re-starting?

My re-start has gone very smoothly so I wanted to share with you what enabled this. As well as what some of the professional and personal challenges were so that you, as a colleague, line manager or employer, can bare these things in mind in the future.

Key challenges when returning to work

  1. The biggest challenge is the emotional challenge. For me, it was mix of emotions, and a confusing mix. So, when people asked how I was feeling… I didn’t know. I missed my baby, but I also missed my colleagues when I was with my baby.
    • Solution: give people the space to talk. Instead of quickly checking in out of courtesy put some time aside to listen to the whirlwind they are experiencing (shout out to my colleague Addie here who let me talk about the mixed-up hormonal ball of emotions I was feeling without judgement and with 100% empathy).
  2. Only having half the information. With a lot of things that were going on I knew some of what was happening but didn’t know what I had missed. I felt like I had the first and last chapter of a book, without the bit in the middle. Enough information for everything to make sense but also constantly feeling like something was missing.
    • Solution: Set up full briefings on everything. Even if you think nothing has changed or that the person worked on that topic before. Remember it is a re-start, so a new starter induction is needed.
  3. Energy and focus. To begin with, keeping up with the pace and not letting my brain wander onto thinking “I wonder if he is eating enough at nursery today” was a struggle. It eases with time though.
    • Solution: make time. Don’t expect colleagues to go straight into the back-to-back meetings or deliver on outcomes straight away. They need time to re-train their brain to focus on work.

Strategies for an effective return to work

  • Time. It sounds easy but time to adjust is the number 1 factor in a smooth re-start.
  • Colleagues showing they care about your re-start by booking in a coffee with you and asking how you are feeling
  • Using the Keeping in Touch (KIT) time wisely whilst on leave
  • Communication with your manager in advance of the first day to check what you need and what the expectations are on both sides
  • After a few weeks (or maybe months) sitting down with the re-starter and creating a new personal development plan. It may have some of the same things it did before their leave, but their perspective and priorities may have changed so give them the chance to re-start.

Finally, to all of those wonderful members who knew me before my leave ‘Hello again!’ and those I am yet to meet I’m looking forward to getting to know you. I am glad to “be back”.

To find out more about how Inclusive Employers can support you with advice and programmes for employees returning to work please contact your Account Manager (if you are a member) or send us a message.