Working Mums: What are your concerns about returning to work? Part II

Working Mums: What are your concerns about returning to work? Part II

(For more information, don’t forget to read Part I)

When a woman is on maternity leave and thinking about going back to work, about a billion thoughts go through her head. It is normal to find your job, and your ability to do it, quite different to how it was when you left it.

The amount of time women take off tends to vary between four weeks and two years, depending greatly on the individual and her support network and resources.

Some women only want to take a little time, and some are only able to take a little time because of their personal circumstances. Going back to work very quickly means that your job won’t have changed at all, it will be just like you’ve had a little holiday (some holiday, but anyhow).

If, like most women on maternity leave, you take a bit longer, such as between six months to two years, things will have changed. And it’s natural to be a bit concerned about how.

What if you need different hours or other changes to your job?

Legally your employer has to keep your job. You’re entitled to twelve months (unpaid) maternity leave and can also ask for an additional twelve months after that, and your job will be held for you.

But what if you can’t do your old job?

Most women returning to work will do so part-time and will need adjusted hours or changed conditions to the role. You have a whole pile of new things you have to also include in your life now, such as mothering.

Does your employer have to give you an alternate option? Or are they only required to keep your exact job?

According to the government website:

Under the Fair Work Act, employees who have responsibility for the care of a child and are returning to work after taking leave in relation to the birth of the child may request to work part-time to assist the employee to care for the child.

You must make your request for flexibility in writing and your employer must respond to the request in writing within 21 days.

A request can be refused by your employer on ‘reasonable business grounds’ which may include (but is not limited to) considerations such as that:

  • The proposed arrangements would be too costly
  • There is no capacity to change the working arrangements of other employees to accommodate the proposed arrangements
  • It would be impractical to change the working arrangements of other employees or recruit new employees to accommodate the proposed arrangements
  • The proposed arrangements would be likely to result in a significant loss in efficiency or productivity
  • The proposed arrangements would be likely to have a significant negative impact on customer service.
  • ‘Reasonable business grounds’ will vary from business to business and take into account the size of the organisation.

Supporting Working Parents Humans Rights Australia

So legally, you can ask for a flexible arrangement, and unless they have excellent grounds for not doing so, your employer needs to offer you one.

But technically, your employer does not have to give adjusted hours or conditions, if their business won’t be able to support it. Or alternatively, they may offer you a flexible arrangement which doesn’t really work for you.

Possible flexible work arrangements include:

  • Returning to your same job, but with less hours (and hopefully a reduced role!)
  • A shared job arrangement with another part-timer
  • Some ability to work from home or after hours
  • Returning to a different role with the same employer, that is better suited to part-time hours than your previous one.

You need to consider what is best for you and your family. Try to not make decisions based on what is best for your employer, your colleagues, or because you think you should be awesome at everything.

What if you are out of date with your industry now?

Time off with a newborn does a number of things to your ability to work; it means you may miss changes in your industry, and it means your brain may get a bit out of practice at working.

What can you do to help with this?

  • Stay in touch with your employer or friends in the industry, so that you can be informed of any upheavals or developments. Try not to do this so often however that you are stressing yourself out about it
  • Do a bit of work from home prior to returning to keep your brain alive and keep in touch
  • Undertake some online study or professional development while you are home. Even some reading or watching webinars can be enough to keep your confidence going.

What if you want a whole different job?

Many, many mums, myself included, don’t want to go back to the job they had before. For me, I had a demanding job in social services, where I often took work home with me. And I felt I just didn’t have that much of me to give to the same role when I had my baby to think about to.

So, I chose a role more based in administration (and more clearly defined as part-time).

You have changed since having a baby in ways you can’t even explain.

Your interests and emotional feelings may be significantly different. Your body may have changed as well, so that you can’t physically do the same job as before.

You have all this extra stuff on your mind and in your life that wasn’t there before, so you may not be happy doing what you used to do.

Your career goals may have changed, because you are not the same person as before, and that is natural, and really common.

You may choose not to return to the same job because you have essentially doubled your workload by adding a baby to your life, and you shouldn’t be expected to work as much or be as focused as before.

Many working mothers place themselves under unreasonable stress because they try to work as well as before and be incredibly devoted mothers at the same time.

You can have work/life balance, but it needs to be a BALANCE, not just you trying to be great at everything. You may need to be kind to yourself and admit to some compromises for your own physical or mental health.

Some great ideas that will help keep you sane include:

1. Talking to your partner about them doing more around the house
2. Getting a cleaner
3. Getting your groceries delivered, or looking into one of the new fantastic ready-made meal delivery services such as or
4. Schedule in time for being by yourself, such as exercise or just having fun
5. Connect with other mothers in the same boat
6. Accepting that your full-time job may reasonably need to be made less harder somehow
7. Talking to a counsellor if you feel yourself under too much emotional stress
8. Have a nap
9. If you take public transport, using this time more wisely, such as buying your groceries, planning your menu, or doing some meditation.
10. Learn mindfulness, which is being entirely present in the moment doing what you are doing, rather than worrying about what you are not doing.
11. Reduce your standards a little bit at home, such as look at quicker ways to make meals or making them in bulk, or not ironing absolutely everything.
12. Make a priorities list of household chores that have to be done, and those that really don’t. Trying to undertake just a couple of chores every day to keep on top of it.
13. Swallow your pride and ASK FOR HELP

Have you been discriminated against? And how can you tell?

Legally, if your employer has sufficient grounds, they don’t have to offer you a flexible arrangement, but they do have to keep your prior job.

It often happens that we go back to work, either in the same or an adjusted role, and then find ourselves experiencing things that don’t seem fair somehow.

On the surface, your employer may seem to be upholding the law, but if you look a little deeper, some discrimination may be going on.

You are right to be suspicious if:

1. You are given a job part-time but expected to do the tasks of your old full-time role (in half the hours and for half the pay!)
2. You are given a flexible arrangement that is unworkable or unfair on you as a staff member, such as work location, work hours or your specific tasks.
3. You are given the chance to come back, but not allowed to advance in your career or develop your skills in the same way that workers around you (who haven’t taken maternity leave) are.
4. If you are denied a promotion because you have taken maternity leave
5. You are given a role that is below your current capabilities or responsibility level
6. If your role is unreasonably restructured or you are not informed of restructure changes

Legally, your employer can’t do the following:

1. fail to consult with you about any significant change to your pre-parental leave position while you were on leave (under the Fair Work Act)
2. fail to return you to your pre-leave position (under the Fair Work Act)
3. or deny your request for a flexible work arrangement without reasonable grounds
4. take adverse action (such as changing your reporting line and duties) against you because you had taken parental leave (under the Fair Work Act)
5. take action that would be discriminating against you on the basis ofyour pregnancy and sex, giving rise to a claim under the Sex Discrimination Act or state and territory anti-discrimination legislation or an action under the Fair Work Act.
6. And quite a few other things not listed here.

If you are unsure if you have been discriminated against, talk to a trusted colleague, your HR person, or consult with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Part I: Working Mums – What are your concerns about returning to work?