REAL EXPERIENCE: True interactions in a professional environment
Maternity Leave in a Global Pandemic
We interview a new, first time parent who commenced her maternity leave in a time where our lives were business as usual, only to be faced with returning to work in a whole new world during the height of a global pandemic. If managing the transition from fulltime to part time, or individual to parent, weren’t enough, adjusting to the new normal would certainly create some hurdles – it just goes to show how resilient we can be.
1. How did you feel going on maternity leave?
I felt excited about starting this new chapter and was looking forward to a change of lifestyle for a bit! However, I was also nervous about the unknown and everything that comes with being a first time parent, such as whether I would be able to handle it on days when my husband was at work, whether I would still feel like ‘myself’, and about the eventual juggle I would have to adopt when returning to work.
2. How did you feel during the COVID-19 outbreak?
I tried to remain pretty calm and take all the necessary precautions before and after the lockdown. Obviously, I was nervous about having a small baby for both health and financial security, as it wasn’t clear at the start whether my industry or job security would be as impacted by some other industries. I also felt somewhat out of the loop as to what was going on as I wasn’t physically in the office. To manage these feelings, my husband and I talked regularly about the other options and how we would manage if either of us were to lose our jobs. Thankfully we are both still employed but not complacent as we know the situation can change.
One of the surprising benefits I found was the increase in time we got to spend as a family with both of us working from home on different days. I think key to getting through this time though (without driving each other crazy!) was having our own separate workspaces and differentiating those spaces from the ‘home’ spaces.
3. What were your thoughts towards returning to work vs what it was actually like?
I was somewhat hesitant about going back to work for a few reasons, above and beyond all the changes that COVID brought! This included being wary of the bias (unconscious or otherwise) that some women face upon their return, from colleagues in all different types of industries. I had heard a number of stories about this that stuck with me, so to mitigate my anxiety around this I was often reminding myself that starting a family is a very personal decision and hasn’t affected my ability to do my job. I also prepared myself as best I could mentally to know that it would be different to before and that while I would struggle with juggling it all at first, I would adapt and find my stride eventually.
I’m happy to say that for me personally, returning to work so far has been a really positive experience for me and while I know it’s not always the reality, every mum and dad or carer returning to work after such a huge change deserves an awesome experience! Some days are harder to juggle than others, but I’m enjoying the mental stimulation and of course (last but not least), it really helps to have a supportive workplace that empowers flexible work arrangements for parents.
4. How have you managed to balance the world’s ‘new normal’ with your new family life?
It was real challenge trying to manage both at first, especially with the heightened levels of anxiety that come with adapting to an environment that is very different to what it was like before my maternity leave! Like many though, I accept that this is the ‘new normal’ for a while and that we as a society are doing what needs to be done to get through it. While my office environment has not changed fundamentally (apart from the necessary to keep everyone safe), I think the pandemic has helped highlight the benefits of flexible and remote working and debunk some of the ‘myths’ around whether people can still be productive at home. Hopefully, this will encourage more businesses to adopt flexible working arrangements if they weren’t already, and open the door for not only working parents but also individuals to create an arrangement that meets their needs and nurtures the different aspects of their life.
While I enjoy working from home and really value the ability to be flexible when I need to, I am happy to now be back in the office with a COVID-Safe plan. I personally find myself more stimulated and present in this environment, and especially being part-time, it helps to differentiate my work days from my home days. If I was full-time however, I would have more of an emphasis on being able to work from home 1-2 days a week.
5. After your experience as a new mum managing part-time employment in a time of great change and adversity, what have you learnt about the importance of flexible work arrangements?
From my personal experience and hearing that of friends, I think flexible working arrangements are not just a ‘nice to have’ as they have may have been some years ago, but really a must in today’s business world (and even more so now with the COVID-19 protocols in place regarding testing and self-isolation for any symptoms!).
For me as a mother, it would be great to see more industries provide equal parental leave entitlements for both women and men. I know many companies are already doing this and I think the future looks very positive in this space.
Finally, I believe that businesses are now more aware about the impact that their office environment and culture has on their staff. Part of this is a wider understanding of how their different employees best function and work, and I think flexible working arrangements allow people to discover this. While I personally like being in the office and doing my work during ‘office hours’, there is not a ‘one size fits all approach’.
Many people will do their best work in the early morning or at night when the kids are in bed and they have time to really focus mentally, and thrive knowing they can use the time in the middle of the day to nurture other aspects of their career such as further study, or other aspects of life such as being a parent! I also know individuals who have chosen to work part-time so they can work on their passion project a 2 days a week, which I find really inspiring.