WHAT NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT GOING BACK TO WORK PART-TIME
And the one question you should always ask your boss first…
In my life before baby I was pretty ambitious and had a clear direction of where I wanted to go, and I was well on my way there. Then I fell pregnant and suddenly I was into the whole nesting thing way more than I thought I would be, and was so happy to finish up work and begin my new life as a mum. Secretly thinking maybe I won’t go back to work at all, maybe I’ll be a stay at home mum…
Flash forward a year and I knew the SAHM life was not for me - not at this point anyway. I did love it and had the coolest little sidekick, but I knew I needed something of my own and I still wanted to work, plus I knew I would regret it if I didn’t go back and give it a go. Add to that the bills stacking up (FYI renovating your house while on maternity leave and one income is not a great idea…) Weighing up our options (and the exorbitant cost of daycare) I decided that part time was the way to go, initially at least, and off I headed back to my old job.
Naively, I really thought it wouldn’t be a big deal, I hadn’t changed that much I thought. ‘I’m still me. My work place is open-minded and were happy to accommodate me going part time, this will be great.’
But, it didn’t exactly go according to plan. But not for the reasons I expected.
I was lucky, in that for me, the easiest part was bubs, he settled into daycare (almost) seamlessly and quickly started enjoying it, so that was one major weight off my back.
Unsurprisingly however, after a year of singing The Wiggles and having one-sided conversations with a human blob, I did find I was pretty rusty at my job and it took my brain a while to switch back into gear. It took a lot of smiling and nodding for me to feel somewhat competent again. Before long however, I felt like I never left, but the problem was I had.
I quickly began to feel like I was having a sort of out of body experience and I realised I had changed after all. SO much. I felt like suddenly I’d been thrown back into my old life but I was a completely different person - and those two worlds were now colliding.
For some people they return to work and breathe a sigh of relief, feeling like they’re back where they belong, but that wasn’t the case for me. This sudden identity crisis struck me hard, and trying to find where I fit in now was what really threw me for six.
You see, you find yourself navigating things like all the new staff that came along and got comfortable while you were gone, (to you they’re the newbies, but to them you are). Then there’s the drama that all too quickly sets back in; the office politics, the ‘he said, she said’, the rumour mill - it's exhausting. And as any mum who has returned part time will tell you, you quickly start to try and over compensate and go above and beyond because you don’t want to be seen as the weakest link.
But despite everything you do, you often will still be seen that way.
Before I got pregnant I had laid down some serious groundwork and I had been earmarked for a promotion that was apparently coming “any day now”, but then as my bump grew I quickly came to realise that the baby was coming before any promotion was. So with nothing on paper, I left with a “we’ll call you when the job gets approved”. Yeah that call never came and so I returned part-time, into the same role.
But what I naively didn’t realise was the effect that being part-time would have on my standing within my team and the company – and my ability to get ahead.
Months after my return, when the restructure did finally happen, I didn’t get that promotion, but rather a new title (to align me with all the other far less experienced members in the team), despite everyone else getting payrises and more responsibility, I was meant to feel “lucky” to have my job at all. When I asked about why I missed out on the role I had wanted they told me the person who got it had really stepped up that last year (when I was off, you know, having a baby) and that the role really needed to be full time.
And while it’s not about begrudging the person who did get the role from getting ahead, it’s still a bitter pill to swallow when you know that it would have been yours had you not taken a year off and if you didn’t now have a kid that required you to look after it. Sure, maybe if I had decided to go back full time and put in the overtime maybe I would have got it – but then my little buddy loses out – so what are you to do?
My pride took a huge dive after that, but the good thing is, when you’re a mum you learn to put things into perspective, once upon a time I would have been overwhelmed by my devastation, whereas now I can brush it off much easier. I made my choice to work part-time, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt.
But it’s not just the big moments like team restructures that you need to prepare yourself for, it’s the every day things, like the meetings you’re left out of, or the emails you’re left off “because you’re only part-time”. When your desk gets moved to the end of the row beyond the most junior member “because you’re hardly ever here” (and when you stop and think ‘maybe it’s all in my head..’ – a lovely colleague from another team decides to come over and ask how you feel being shunted down from the top spot. Yeah thanks for noticing.)
Maybe (hopefully) you’ll have a better experience than me, but what I’ll say is this; prepare yourself for it to be tough (and mind you, this is just when you’re in the office, don’t even get me started on balancing work and home life, and the morning hustle and cooking dinner and keeping the house somewhat respectable ARGH that’s a whole other story for another day). But prepare yourself for your ego to take a hit. Your priorities have changed and that’s ok, great even - your baby is WAY more important than any job or people clock watching what time you leave the office to go pick up your kid.
But if there’s one piece of advice I can give, it’s ask your boss about what you returning part time means to them. For some people part time is the perfect option to stay in the game while being able to take a step back from the pressure and responsibility, but if you’re there to still work hard and get ahead then you need to make sure you’re in a company that will let you do it. It’s all well and good letting you go part time, but if that then means you’re pigeonholed and overlooked for promotions and unable to thrive in that business - when that’s what you still want - maybe it’s not the workplace for you after all.
The author of this article has chosen to remain anonymous.