Category: Managing Work and Colleagues

It’s okay to be anxious about returning to nursing after maternity leave

It’s okay to be anxious about returning to nursing after maternity leave

If you’re feeling panicky about returning to nursing after maternity leave then you’re not alone. Feeling guilty and tearful after a bad night’s sleep doesn’t bode well for giving injections and administering medication but there’s no need to worry.

Here are a few pointers to make sure you’re back to work in no time:

Remember employers understand

The core values of the nursing industry are compassion and care. The NHS have a duty of care to you and when compared to some more male dominated industries your boss will hopefully be a lot more understanding about the emotional and practical complications returning to work may cause. Your employer will be so used to welcoming mothers back that they will be ready to deal with all of the concerns and issues you may have. They might even offer you flexible working hours or have a special training programme for new mums. Speak to management before your return and see what they can do.

Options

If you’re thinking your old job may be too stressful or you’re looking for work closer to home there are many different hospitals and roles within nursing. You could consider doing agency work for a while – it’s best to have a look online for vacancies as there is a lot of well-paid temporary work out there until you’re ready to return to full-time work.

Before you return

There are lots of things you can do before your return to work to make the transition smoother. Nursing is ever changing, with budgets and targets to meet the NHS always having to evolve. Whilst you’re on maternity leave it’s a good idea to try keep up with the industry, you could do this by reading the Nursing Times. Making contact with your old colleagues in advance is also helpful, you can get the gossip and be filled in on important news so there isn’t too much to take in at first.

Childcare arrangements

Nursing can be quite physically tiring being on your feet all day and if your child isn’t sleeping very well this can make work quite exhausting. Make sure you plan with your partner who is going to get up in the night and take turns. Concrete childcare arrangements are essential; if you’re used to leaving your baby with a grandparent. for example. this should help you to feel less guilty and relaxed when at work.

Don’t feel guilty

Some mums are actually pleasantly surprised by how good returning to work can be. A lot of women miss having a laugh with the other nurses at work and enjoy being back in their normal environment. Even just getting ready for work, putting your makeup on and going somewhere without your child every day can make you feel like you’ve regained your independence. Also, as nursing is such a caring and rewarding profession it can make you feel extremely good about yourself again too.

Author:Brit Peacock is a journalism graduate who blogs on a variety of topics and takes a particular interest in writing about health-related issues. He has been published across a range of health websites, both in the UK and US, and is currently writing on behalf of UK nursing agency Nursing Personnel.

Returning to work after a second child – how different can it be?

Returning to work after a second child – how different can it be?

I rather excitedly returned to work earlier this month having had almost a year off following the birth of my second son. Returning to work the second time around offered an entirely new experience, why had no one warned me about this? Why did they just warn me about how different my second child would be, and how they would have hugely distinctive personalities, habits and traits from the first one? Unfortunately for me the new experience wasn’t positive either.

I was returning to work again as a freelancer for an organisation I used to be an employee at, and which I had been working for years. The major shift in the way I worked had been after my first child when I decided to resign my permanent job and go freelance so I could more easily juggle the demands of motherhood and career. That was a hugely nerve wracking time but turned out to be the best decision I could have made. At least, returning to the same arrangement the second time around wouldn’t be such a shock or upheaval, I thought to myself.

The night before did bring some of the usual anxieties: how do I help get not one but two children dressed, breakfasted and off to nursery, and myself ready and out the house in time for my train? (really, hats off to you working women with more than two sprogs); will I still fit in my work attire having lost none of the pregnancy fat I promised I would; mmm, oh yes, and can I still do my job?

Yet it was none of these that in the end put a dampener on my spirits. When I walked in the door and strode over to the work area I usually shared with five lively and (unwittingly) amusing salespeople, I found a lone computer sitting on a deserted desk with a mountainous stack of unwanted paper on one side and a huge empty space where people should have been on the other. It was MY computer sitting there in isolation shoved next to what, frankly, looked like preparations for a bonfire. My old colleagues had been ‘rehomed’ leaving my desk to rack and ruin and become a mere dumping ground.

Worse though, where were the friendly, familiar, smiley faces I assumed would be there to greet me? I looked around me to ask someone what was going on and bar a smattering of old timers I realised, with a pang of fear, I hardly knew anyone. So many people were new. My old boss had gone, old colleagues moved to a different floor, departments restructured and moved around, and an entire magazine which I used to work on and dedicated most of my career to had been TUPED off to a different company altogether. Hardly a soul welcomed me back, not because they were being rude but because they just didn’t know me, even though I am now one of the longest serving workers. Gosh so much had changed – spurred on, no doubt, by the spectral economic downturn – and I was in unfamiliar territory.

I had been already made aware, of course, of the major changes such as my boss leaving (something the organisation, to be fair, wasn’t obliged to do given I am a freelancer). However reading about it on email is not like feeling it in real life. Also just think, colleagues aren’t necessarily aware that the gradual changes they experience over the course of just under a year can add up to something representing quite a dramatic transformation to someone who has been absent all that time. They are just busy getting on with it all.

And realistically some change must be expected. Which successful businesses do you know of simply stand still? After all, the organisation had gone through some key changes while I was off with my first child. I coped with that just fine.

Yet this time was different, the pace of change felt far more accelerated. As I said, I guess it’s just a sign of the times. The organisation has been brilliant at supporting me but really not much can prepare you for feeling like everything is suddenly unfamiliar.

As a result, I actually felt lonely but rather weirdly, also a bit stupid, out of place, like a spare part. And feeling like that on top of the insecurity you can experience after such a long spell out of work can be a recipe for disaster if you are trying to get your career back on track. It can be tricky to explain how pressurised it can feel returning to work after maternity leave to those that haven’t done it. Many women suffer a crisis of confidence just because they have been absent so long and worry about their job performance. Then there’s the added stress of worrying how your little one is coping without you and hoping to god they are not sitting in the corner just crying. Your emotional state is about as stable as a straw mountain but the façade you have to give is cool, calm, collected, adding to the pressure.

Going back to a workplace that you then feel has changed beyond recognition can make it tempting to bid a hasty retreat to your desk, speak and interact with no-one and just bury your head in your work. That’s certainly what I wanted to do.

However, on the journey home that evening I had the chance to analyse the day, re-assess the situation and thought I should draw on all the great coaching I had been lucky enough to receive as an employee. I realised fading into the background is not a strategy that was going to get me back on the career ladder. So I devised a personal strategy with a few goals and aims. I thought I should share them, so here goes:

1. Accept change

It happens every day in business. Don’t bemoan the fact the place has changed, all the fun people have gone or old ways of working have been replaced. It will just make you feel worse about your working life. Get to know your organisation as it is now and accept that’s how it is. All the positive elements will soon make themselves apparent again. I resolved to do this after that first day, having realised that all I was doing was comparing the here and now with the ‘old days’. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling dealing with change but I decided I must switch my thinking, be adaptable and ride it out. The next day I started work with a new much more positive outlook.

2. Don’t isolate yourself and keep yourself to yourself

Not even if it is just because you feel you don’t know anyone anymore. Seek out old colleagues to let them know you are back and have a catch up, but then ask them to introduce you to new people. I went and said hello to as many of the people I had formerly worked with as I could, including making a special visit to some of the senior staff! It reminded me I had a place and history at the organisation and that I was valued.

3. Embrace new challenges and new projects

Take on projects outside your comfort zone. It will remind bosses why you are such a talent and give you the opportunity to work with new people and teams.

4. Enjoy your work

Remind yourself of the parts of the job that you find rewarding, stimulating and enjoyable and get stuck in again. It can be a real buzz re-discovering the joys of what you do as well as having some of your former identity back. For me I have loved getting to meet and write about new people again, the chance to make more contacts, to learn what was happening in the industries I write about. In other words, using my brain again!

5. Enjoy working life

It’s can be hard to arrange a night out but if you can join colleagues for an after work drink or work social event occasionally it can be a real tonic.

6. Weed out the negative

You should be too busy to have time to indulge in negative thoughts or feelings anyway!

Ok I can’t claim I have achieved all of this yet. After all, I have only been back at work a couple of weeks. Some of it such as the night out is work in progress and I admit, so too is being able to entirely eliminate negative thoughts. But the simple task of even devising a strategy and setting myself goals and aims has enormously helped my outlook and make sense of my rather overwhelming experience of returning to work. I am also reminded that if I want to ensure my work life is enriching and enjoyable only I can take charge and be sure that that is what happens!

Author: Rima Evans, free lance business journalist and editor, rimaevans@blueyonder.co.uk

What to Expect When You’re ….. Returning to Work

What to Expect When You’re ….. Returning to Work

You’ve been offered a new role, you’ve organised your wardrobe and you’ve sorted out your childcare – now you need to give some thought to how you will make the most of your return to work. This is true whether you are returning from maternity leave or returning to work after a career break. The key to a successful return is managing expectations: those you have of yourself; those your employer has; and those your family has.

Expectations of yourself

It is really important that you return to work with some realistic ideas about what you hope to achieve in your first months in the role. By having clear goals you will find it easier to focus your energy on those aspects of your working life which will have the biggest positive impact.

The greatest pitfalls for working mums occur when they become caught up in the need to prove themselves (to their employer or colleagues) or to please everyone (at home and at work) which can quickly lead to exhaustion and resentment. A realistic assessment of what is possible to achieve can help to minimise the risk of falling into these traps.

Your employer’s expectations

Managing your employer’s expectations rests on a mutual discussion of how you will work together. You can help yourself in these conversations by spending some time becoming really clear on the following four areas:

  • Achievement  – your tangible measurable impact
  • Relationships – identifying key people and starting to build connections with them
  • Brand – what values do you want to be known for
  • Ways of working – establishing your boundaries

Achievement

Think about the tangible and measurable business requirements that you will be working on. Through the interview process (or your prior experience of the role) you should have a clear idea of what the organisation expects of you. You will need to shape these expectations into specific and tangible results that will demonstrate your competence to your colleagues and in doing so will help you to build your confidence and credibility in your role.

Very early on, you will need to check your view of what goals are important with your manager’s expectations, to ensure that you are aligned with each other. You will also want to build in to your goals, opportunities for quick wins that will enhance your reputation as someone who delivers.

Relationships

As a working mum, you won’t necessarily have as much time for social interaction with your colleagues as you might wish, so it is important to identify those people with whom it is essential to build rapport and concentrate your time and energy on these relationships.

If you are returning to work following a maternity leave, you may already have a network in place and it will be necessary to keep that working and also to add in new connections as you identify them. If you are new to the organisation, you may need some guidance from your line manager on the key people for you to meet and connect with early on.

You will need to be smarter about how you start to build these relationships too, as you may no longer be able to go for drinks after work or go for longer lunch hours. Being new, or recently returned, gives you a perfect excuse to introduce yourself to people and to ask for their advice and their views on your priorities (even if you don’t agree with them!).

Brand

Having a break from the workplace can give you the space to reflect on your values and priorities and you can return to work feeling much clearer about how you wish to be known in the workplace.

If you are clear on your values, consider how you can bring these to life in your new role. (If you are less clear, it is worth putting some thought into this essential area for your success.) How can you demonstrate your brand as you work towards achieving the goals you have set and start building new relationships? What will your priorities be? And just as importantly, what will you let go of?

Ways of Working

Starting a new role is an ideal time to establish sustainable working patterns. By thinking through in advance how you wish to work, you can protect yourself from being drawn into the need to prove yourself or to please everyone.

Ways of working includes considering the following questions

  • Will stay you late or get in early and, if so, how often?
  • Will you take work home with you and, if so, how often?

And if you are not working full-time?

  • Are you prepared and able to come into the office during your time off?
  • Will you look at your work email during your time off?
  • Will you answer your work phone during your time off?

Everyone will have a different view of their personal boundaries, but it is important to define what yours are and stick to them. If you don’t, you may quickly find yourself becoming resentful of your employer and feeling that you are letting down your family.

Expectations of your family

Success here depends on keeping those ways of working boundaries in place and efficient delegating. As Nicola Horlick explains, there is no value in asking your nanny to heat up meals that you have spent the weekend making because you don’t trust her cooking capabilities. You need to set the standard for those you’ve asked to look after your family while you’re at work and then trust them get on with it. The same goes for leaving your partner in charge!

Finally, the key to making your return to work a success for you, your employer and your family is to make sure that you keep time for yourself to recharge your batteries. Not only will you feel better for it, but you will have more energy for your work and your family if you can allow yourself the time that you need.
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Good luck with your return to work and please get in touch if you have specific questions or issues to explore.

 

Author: Katerina Gould. She is an executive coach and career consultant at Thinking Potential. She specialises in supporting people through transitions in their careers. Since starting her family, she has enjoyed part-time employment, being a full-time mum, acquiring new training and skills and establishing her own business; so she has real experience of many of the options available to women with children. Katerina has a background in finance, marketing and strategy in FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 companies. She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a Master’s degree in Law from Cambridge University. She has also founded two companies, an employment agency for interim managers and Thinking Potential. , her executive coaching and career consulting business ( ).

Why all working pregnant women should have maternity coaching

Why all working pregnant women should have maternity coaching

What’s the impact of your pregnancy at work? And how to best prepare for it? You can do it all on your own, but why not consider maternity coaching?  To fully understand the benefits of maternity coaching to an individual and to a company, let’s look at a case study – Kate, who attended 3 group maternity coaching sessions – during pregnancy, maternity leave and on return to work.

Kate had her first session when she was 20 weeks pregnant. She found that networking with other people in her situation was extremely supportive and has since kept in touch with those colleagues she met.

Kate was concerned about her handover – with headcount reductions, it wasn’t clear who she would be handing over to. During the workshop, she was given a sample handover plan and discussions were held around how to do a thorough and professional handover. Following the workshop, her manager noticed how Kate was very organised and how she proactively set up a keeping in touch plan for her maternity leave.

During her maternity leave, Kate worried about her return to work; how much confidence she felt she had lost; would she be able to request a 4-day working week; would the changes at work affect her role? Her next maternity coaching session allowed Kate to discuss all her concerns, and she realised with relief that she wasn’t alone.

The workshop enabled Kate to work through her return to work options and to prepare her meeting with her line manager. Her manager found that Kate was positive, motivated and professional during their meeting and to her manager’s surprise, had already prepared a list of areas she would like to catch up on, using a couple of Keeping in Touch days.

Following a successful flexible request application, Kate returned to work feeling nervous but positive and prepared. The coaching sessions had helped Kate to prepare and manage her childcare situation, and also provided Kate with some tips on image management.

Kate’s final coaching session was held 2 weeks after her return to work. It covered sharing work/life balance tips and ideas, and Kate found the session on managing your career particularly useful, as it helped her regain some direction.

Not all companies offer maternity coaching, but it is still worth looking into individual coaching sessions. As a more affordable alternative, see what support literature is available through HR – for example Parenting for Professionals Ltd offers a Pregnancy at Work Support Pack which includes a Webcast. It covers some of the key messages, tips and information you can get from attending a maternity coaching workshop during pregnancy, but it is a lot more affordable (£29) and allows you to digest the material in your own time.

Whatever your choice of support, make sure you do address the huge change you are going through at work – putting in some time now to think about the implications of having a family on your job will help you reap the rewards later.

Author: Helen Letchfield is Co-Founder and Principal Facilitator for Parenting for Professionals. As a qualified performance coach, Helen works with parents and parents-to-be to offer support through the challenge of creating a home/work balance. She has 12 years experience in coaching and developing corporate clients and has worked for Barclays Wealth, Credit Suisse, Canon and Harrods. She is a working mum to 2 boys aged 6 and 4.

Sign up to a Monthly update to Mum & Career before 17 May 2012 for your chance to WIN the Pregnancy at Work Support Pack. Signing up will bring you tips and guidance for career-minded mums, delivered straight to your inbox. Signing up is free and easy. 

How do mums returning to work find the right Executive Coach?

How do mums returning to work find the right Executive Coach?

Returning to work is a big step and an executive coach can certainly help you with this transition. But how do you find the right one for you?

Plenty of people claim they are a coach. The boundaries between life coaches, business coaches and executive coaches can often be blurred. As the profession itself is not protected, anyone can claim to be a helping mind – finding the right coach can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

An executive coach concentrates on you operating within a business context. A good executive coach should take a systemic approach taking all relevant factors – departments, business lines, business contexts, interacting organisations and your family background and current situation – into consideration. In the particular situation of return-to-work mums, it is also very useful to have a coach who can relate to the struggles you face with the balancing act of having children and pushing your career.

An executive coach supports you to achieve specific professional goals with the objective to enhance your corporate career. These include performance management, career transition, developing an executive presence, interpersonal and professional communication, organizational effectiveness, managing career and personal changes, dealing effectively with conflict, and building an effective team within your organization.

 

So what do you need to look out for when selecting an Executive Coach?

Industry Experience and Background

To help you get back into the swing of your career it will be helpful to work with a coach who has actually worked in a similar environment. The person should be able to relate to your business challenges, have an understanding of internal politics and corporate dynamics. The coach is there to help you develop a strategy for your career and navigate through the potential pitfalls. Not necessarily does a coach need to have worked in the exact same industry but certainly experience that is somewhat similar does help.

Credentials, Credibility and Professional Development

The training for becoming a coach can vary from a few days, which clearly is not enough, to a few years. Choose a coach who is fully accredited with one of the main coaching bodies. This will give you a reassurance that the person you work with has got a sound understanding of how people behave and change in a business environment. Also try to select someone who has a quality reputation in the industry, referrals or client testimonials can be helpful. If they are a good executive coach they are likely to be active and visible and belong to the right coaching bodies. For a coach it is also vital to ensure they continue their own journey of learning. You may want to check if they work with a supervisor and what training opportunities they have made use of recently.

The coaching bodies provide more information on finding a coach, and have a (searchable) directory of coaches in your area:

Logistics and Process

Some coaches insist that you come to their office, others are happy to travel to where you are, meet you in a coffee shop or even work by phone or Skype. There are pros and cons of all of these: a change of scenery can help you open up and find a new perspective to the issues you try to grapple with, while meeting the coach at your office can help you save travel time. You need to work out and discuss what works best for you.

The average length of a coaching assignment is between 3 and 6 months. Meetings are usually between 1 and 3 hours and it tends to be most effective to have them every 2 to 4 weeks. Most coaches offer a free introductory session with the purpose of establishing that both sides are comfortable to work with each other. Once you have agreed working together you then discuss in the next session your goals and objectives and possible length of the assignment. The exact process varies between coaches and goals you wish to achieve, so you need to discuss how you want to work with your coach.

Fees and payments

Depending on what you have agreed in terms of logistics – specifics of the assignment, where and how often you meet – fees can vary greatly. For an experienced executive coach you may get a discounted fee for a privately paid assignment starting from £150 pounds per hour, for a senior executive coach working with a CEO of a large organisation, rates per hour can be over £1000. This may sound extortionate but needs to be taken in context: one hour of coaching translates into three to four hours of work for the coach which includes preparation before and a review after each session as well as travel times. Also an experienced executive coaches who brings along a wealth of industry experience seeks to be paid in line with other activities they could undertake.

Data Protection, Confidentiality and Transparency

You are likely to discuss very private issues with your coach. Check your coach has a clear policy on how they treat and protect your information. Along with the rest of the process it should be transparent to you how your coach works and what approach and methods they apply to help you.

So there are a few things you may want to look out for when choosing the right executive coach. However, the bottom line is: you need to feel comfortable with the person who is supposed to help you in this important phase of your life. Ask yourself: do I trust the person, do I like her/him, can I see myself opening up to this coach and really sharing the way I feel? Only if you can build a sound rapport and trust with your executive coach will you both be in a position to challenge each other and provoke the necessary changes in your life which will help you move forward.

Author: Ulrike Dadachanji is an experienced executive coach. For over ten years she has been successfully coaching and mentoring senior leaders in banks and other large corporate organisations, entrepreneurs and high-potentials. Over the years working in large and small corporate organisations, Ulrike realised that the biggest obstacle to success tends to be a lack of understanding: of oneself, of one’s colleagues, or the business situation. Her mission is: help people and companies to work together better, raise their awareness and be more effective.

 

Are you looking to become a coach?

iPEC is now offering a course on becoming a coach in London. The programme starts 8-10 of March 2013. If you book using this link, you will support Mum & Career AND can bring a friend for FREE to the first weekend (value £950,-)

 

Returning to work? – how an Executive Coach can help get your corporate career back on track

Returning to work? – how an Executive Coach can help get your corporate career back on track

After having spent 6 months, a year, or longer being a mum at home, returning to work can be a great challenge. Yes, even if you have done well at university, excelled in our first job and got promoted fast.

It can also be a very lonely and stressful period in life. Your partner might be equally busy, not having an open ear for personal worries. At work your are expected to continue to project the image of being capable and in control, while sleep deprivation is your constant companion. Often the biggest challenge in this period is to get the right support to get your career moving again – this can be offered through executive coaching.

Working with a coach provides you with the time and space to tackle the issues which are important to you in this transition. Over a period of time, usually 3 to 6 months, you regularly meet with your executive coach, define your challenges, devise an action plan and have someone by your side to help you put your career back on track and refocus.

But sometimes your coach is simply there to listen: listen to the difficulties of keeping so many balls in the air, your ideas of how you want to change your situation or your thoughts on what can be done better in your job. Everything that is being discussed with your coach is confidential so it really gives you a space to open up.

How can an Executive Coach support you?

Every woman and situation is different – and so are the coaching assignments. However, the range of issues an executive coach might help you with include the following:

> Regain your confidence

After having been out of work, a lot of women have a sense of inadequacy. A number of worries might go through your head: ‘Am I still good enough to do the job?’, ‘How do I find my feet again after having had a break?’, ‘Will my colleagues or boss still take me seriously after I have been out for so many months?’ A coach works with you on getting back your strength and confidence and helps you assert yourself in these new circumstances.

> Help organise

The new complexity of having a family life and a career does require different organisational skills. You might address questions such as: ‘How can I balance the new demands at home while at the same time keeping my focus on work?’ or ‘How do I set up and manage a support network for when things don’t go to plan?’ Making sure you carve out some ‘me’ time, looking after yourself, is a key factor for making your return to work successful. Together with your coach, you develop a structured plan to identify your needs and how to address them.

> Set the right expectations

Even with the best of organisational skills, being a mother does require having some flexibility particularly at the beginning. It is important to set the right expectations with your manager. You might want to explore possibilities for flexible working in respect to hours and location. Your team and colleagues may need to reshape the way they work with you and understand your external commitments. Your coach will help you to manage the relevant discussions with your manager, team and colleagues.

> Move your career forward and reactivate your network

Having a child at home and a full day of work usually means there is little time left to think about the future. As a result women returning to work often neglect their long-term career aspirations, which means they can be seen as the person who is content with where she is rather than wanting to go places. Once put in this box it can be difficult to rectify the image at a later point. A coach helps you from the beginning to avoid falling into this trap. Together you will look at where and how you can build your internal and external networks and how you can get prepared for the next promotion. You might look at what responsibilities or projects you can take on to help build your profile while still maintaining the balance between family and working life.

Returning back to work is a difficult time for mums. Getting the right support in this period of your life is crucial and can really make a great difference to how you feel, how you are perceived and ultimately how happy you are with this new double demand. Engaging a coach to support you in this process is not just a wise decision but also one that really pays off.

Author: Ulrike Dadachanji is an experienced executive coach. For over ten years she has been successfully coaching and mentoring senior leaders in banks and other large corporate organisations, entrepreneurs and high-potentials. Over the years working in large and small corporate organisations, Ulrike realised that the biggest obstacle to success tends to be a lack of understanding: of oneself, of one’s colleagues, or the business situation. Her mission is: help people and companies to work together better, raise their awareness and be more effective.

 

How to manage and re-build your post-maternity confidence

How to manage and re-build your post-maternity confidence

Confidence can ebb away really quickly, but there are some key things you can do to help you in returning to work and  (believe me!) be as good as you ever were.

Last autumn I took part in a seminar Credit Suisse hosted which asked the question: what factors help and hinder the recruitment and retention of talented women? Sitting next me to was a lady older than me who hadn’t had children. We got talking about why a friend of hers (a talented marketer) who’d taken eight years out to have and raise children kept turning down job offers she made. I talked about confidence, she nodded and listened intently and was astounded how quickly it can ebb away.

Managing and rebuilding post mat leave confidence is a subject we could write a book on or at least a chapter (see chapter two ‘Keep in touch and ask for what you want’ of my book Mothers Work!) never mind a simple, short post. However, I’m going to give you three things to play with if you’re game.

If you’re currently on maternity leave

Last autumn I took part in a seminar Credit Suisse hosted which asked the question: what factors help and hinder the recruitment and retention of talented women? Sitting next me to was a lady older than me who hadn’t had children.

Reframing is a powerful technique to take back control – instead of focussing on how you’ve been at home for seven months doing things completely unrelated to your job, imagine you’ve had a role on a Guatemalan pigeon farm (or some other nonsense that’s equally far removed from your usual career. So if you are in fact a zoo keeper or travelling vet then imagine a year out managing the trading floor of a Japanese bank in Tokyo ). Somehow I can’t imagine you’d be feeling apprehensive and/or telling yourself silly stories about how you’ll never be able run a client meeting, write a marketing plan or convince a colleague just because you’ve pressed pause to do something different for 40 weeks. Maternity leave is a career break plain and simple (OK, yes I know it IS different but we’re REFRAMING here) and seeing it as such can give you a boost. You absolutely CAN do everything you did before and it’s surprising how easily it comes back and sometimes you’re better than you were before. Fact. Please quote me on it.

If you are already back in the saddle

More feedback please! We all need to hear we’re doing things well and to get a nudge when we’re not operating at our best. If you’re being a doubting Thomasina about your abilities it’s time to pin down three things you think you’re not doing as well as you used to and get feedback from people who know.

When you get your rational mindset on, chances are you won’t be able to find three things. If on closer inspection you do need to tweak what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, ask for some suggestions on what it would take to boost your performance. What does great look like? How wide of the mark are you? What’s different about your approach now compared to the pre-kiddie era?

Be brave, ask for feedback and if it’s glowing please, please please accept it graciously like a confident woman does and if it’s developmental, act on it.

If you’ve taken a substantial time out

We’re all changed by having children regardless of the length of time taken out of work. If there’s a twinkle in your heart about getting back into what you were doing before children, start talking to friends and past colleagues who are still in the industry. Making that connection, expressing your desire is the first step to making things happen. And believe me, things can happen if you tell the world you’re back and want to start exploring.

If you want to change tack, my plea is that you’re honest with yourself about why. I’ve met many women who are doing or talking about doing something completely different for reasons they’re not always honest about.

Confidence does return and when it flows so too might your frustration at being over-qualified and under-stretched by your new role. Of course, it’s fair to say there are lots of career-shifters who are flourishing because of it.

Back to the lady at the Credit Suisse seminar: “So how quickly did you start feeling that you couldn’t do it?” she whispered to me as the first speaker took to the stage. “A couple of months” I replied. “A couple of months?!” she echoed with incredulity. “I know, it’s ridiculous,” I said “but it’s the truth – now you can perhaps see what’s going on for your friend. But look, I’m back and it didn’t take very long at all – I even wrote a book about it. Perhaps that’s a story you could share with your friend.” “Yes, I will, have you got a card?” she said deliberately and with a look of deep thought.

Motheringly yours,

Jessica

Author: Jessica Chivers is the author of Mothers Work! How to get a grip on guilt and make a smooth return to work (Hay House, £10.99).

She coaches women in career transition and works with organisations to facilitate the smooth return and ongoing progression of female talent. Do check out her monthly mailings on working motherhood and female flourishing.

Managing perceptions when returning to work: taming the alpha male

Managing perceptions when returning to work: taming the alpha male

When you work in a male dominated environment and become a mum you will have to deal with a whole set of unhelpful perceptions. Working mums can be perceived as: no longer focussed on their career or no longer committed or able to stay late and be flexible.

My first brush with these perceptions happened when returning to work after having my first child. One Thursday at 6 pm, having finished my work for the day, I stood up to leave. My boss jokingly said “Thanks for popping in!” I reflected for a nano second and quickly responded “well apparently you get to leave at 6 if you do a five-day week”. And with that I said my goodbyes and left.

The next day I was the first to arrive and sat catching up on my emails when ten or so minutes later, my boss walked in. After exchanging pleasantries, he asked what I had meant the night before – my comment had clearly got him puzzled. Whilst I declined to spell it out, the answer was simple. Our five single male colleagues spent most Thursdays after work at the pub meaning most Fridays they came in late, with varying degrees of hangovers. Fridays were frequently spent with them regaling the tales of the night before which were highly entertaining, but not a lot of work got done and the same five would slope off at differing times after lunch.

Quite frankly I didn’t care that they did this. The team was hard-working and our results were always good. That they chose to work flat-out till Thursday and then have a more leisurely Friday was up to them. The format just was not one I followed and it wasn’t appropriate to be measured in the same way.

In fairness, my boss was a good-natured, affable guy. His comment could easily just have been a throw away remark that meant nothing. But ask yourself this – how would an alpha male react if that comment had been made publicly to him? Do you think he would have let the comment go? I sincerely doubt it. He would have defended his territory pointing out in some way or other that he had stayed late all week or that given his amazing results it was the quality of the time spent and not the amount that was important.

So yes, I could just have let the comment wash over me, but here is an important lesson for women looking to succeed in an alpha male environment: set your boundaries, just like alpha males do. You have to start building the foundations of your boundaries little by little, and then you can start erecting the wooden fence. Only when you have 6 ft of barbed wire at the top can you rest easy. This is a slow process and has to be done one step at a time. However, it will bring you respect and gain you the freedom you so badly need as a working mum.

Imagine if you left the front door and the windows of your house wide open with all your valuables on display for a whole day. When you came home would you be surprised to find a burglar in your house? You wouldn’t, would you? If you then started screaming at the burglar blaming him, do you think they may consider this a little irrational? Guarding your territory is critical in the alpha kingdom. Anyone who is not establishing these boundaries and building these fences is seen as either disinterested or an easy target. And like with a burglar, if you want back what you lost, you have a serious fight on your hands.

So that’s all very well I hear you all cry but if women tackle this conundrum the same way as men aren’t they simply exposing themselves to criticism? I am not advocating copying their methods – but you do have to find a way that gains you respect and that works for you.

Be creative, and remember to follow the ground rules for setting boundaries:

  • Start instantly – it is easier in the long run. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the issue – it won’t go away and will build up till you explode, which will only serve to undermine you further.
  • Keep it concise – make your point quickly and cleanly – too many words will either confuse the issue or will lead to you tripping yourself up and saying something you’ll regret
  • Avoid using “I” or “me” – de-personalise it. (Re-read the dialogue above) If you make it about you, you will be viewed as either whiney or a victim – or both!
  • Use humour – humour is a great way to make a point that will subtly hit the mark, and it will certainly make others wary of trying again!
  • Accept you may not be able to sort it out in one go – focus on fighting the battle, not on winning the war.
  • Don’t let a setback put you off: Rome wasn’t built in a day, just keep at it.
  • Always learn from it, then move on, regardless of the outcome.

So did it work out for me? Well later that day, as one of my colleagues tried to sneak out at about 3pm my boss called out loudly to him “Thanks for popping in!” The foundations for my boundaries had been laid.

Author: Jacqueline Frost – Business and Career Coach, Professional Speaker – Having worked in derivatives for 15 years, with her last role being European head of the group, Jacqueline is well versed in what it takes to forge a successful career in the City. Through this experience, she learned the do’s and don’ts of working in a highly pressurised, male-dominated environment. Now, she delivers unique and refreshing content as she reveals the “unwritten rules” of business and provides her clients with a step-by-step guide on how to use this knowledge to their advantage. She is also co-founder of the Women in Business Superconference series. Download for free from her website:  The Secret Weapon – every woman in business needs to know...