How to start the conversation with your boss around working flexibly

It wasn’t long ago that I was counting down the days and dreaming about my year off on maternity leave. I was happily farewelling my co-workers and talking about how blissful my year off work would be, and yes, I’d be in all the time to visit with my baby. Fast forward 10 months and I’ve been in to work only once to meet my new leader. Now I find myself starting to dream about what it’d be like to have a cup of hot tea and go to the bathroom by myself! Work is starting to look much more attractive all over again.

The best time to start having conversations with your leader is probably about now. I was 4 months out from starting back at work when I started to reopen communication with my leader. Most workplaces will have gone through a lot of change in the year that you’ve been away. You’ll want to find out about your role, your team, new members, goals of the team and your leader’s vision for the team. It’s a great way to get you connected with the organisation again and will give you some excitement around what you’ll be doing when you go back. If you can attend a team lunch or event, then that’s even better. There is nothing like speaking with your co-workers to find out about the current morale and who’s who in the zoo.

Then, go home and talk to your partner/parents/friends/support person about the impact all that information will have for your return to work. Don’t make any promises of dates of return or days you want to work until you have some time to digest it. It might also trigger you to reflect on whether the role will work for you based on the days you want to work and your child care requirements. You will need to decide how many days you are going to work and be honest about that with your leader. My advice is to start low and work your way back up. In the future, it will be easier to negotiate to work for more days than to tell your leader that you need to work fewer days. My organisation allowed me to start working 2 days a week so, I could have the time to work out my family/work balance. I eventually progressed to 3 days a week.

I know from experience that conversations with your leader about your transition back to work are never black and white. Organisations have set company policies, job roles and responsibilities and it’s unlikely they’ll change those just for you. However, there is no harm in being honest and challenging the status quo. When I started conversations with my leader about returning to work after my second maternity leave, I put my real thoughts out there. I challenged how I would be able to progress if all managerial roles were 5 days a week. Luckily, at about the same time, the organisation was developing some more flexible work arrangements and I’m so pleased that they have now restructured roles to be job-shared by two part timers. Workplaces in Australia are now talking about support for women returning to work and offering working parents more flexibility. I believe it’s our voices and our suggestions that will make a difference.

I had probably one of the most supportive workplaces which did want to ensure I was comfortable returning to work and offered me all the flexibility in the world. However, the transition back to work was still difficult and it didn’t stop issues arising where I’d still be asked to work extra days. You will feel at times that the struggle is hard and the support is low. But I do know that there is a fantastic network of working women who understand exactly what you are going through and who know that you are amazing to juggle it all. Good luck for your first day back at work and those all-important conversations with your leaders!

Written by Jenny Vanderhoek, CEO of Mynder and mum of two. Whether you need a babysitter for date night, a last minute carer for a medical emergency or a regular nanny for ongoing assistance, Mynder makes finding the right person both easy and safe. 

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