Back to work after baby
The time has come to look beyond nap times and nappies and consider your return to paid work. How do you navigate through the post-baby job maze and decide what’s best for you and your family?
Returning to your previous position is ideal if your company has adopted family-friendly work practices. Allowing mothers to stage their return through part-time work establishes a balance between work and family from the outset.
In Karen Mitchell’s book ‘Careers and Motherhood Challenges and Choices,’ she comments that there are two options regarding the negotiation of your return to work. The first suggests that you take the initiative and negotiate as much detail as possible before you take maternity leave. The alternative suggests keeping options open to allow for flexibility, in effect seeing how you feel at the time.
Mitchell recommends the former, mainly because of the likelihood of changes occurring in the work place during your absence. She quotes Ann Sherry of Westpac, ‘There is something about being clear before you go off to have a baby, about what you are coming back to.’
Sherry’s key message is that the world does not stand still while a woman is on maternity leave. Anything can change - working conditions, staffing, the boss, the company’s culture or its policies. Having said that, Mitchell explains that there is no express right for women to return from maternity leave and become a part-time worker. However, a failure to allow it could give rise to a claim of indirect discrimination.
As an example, Mitchell outlines a landmark case from 2003 where the Federal Magistrates Court recognised that women are more likely than men to require some periods of part-time work during their careers to meet family responsibilities. Thus, they should not be disadvantaged by inflexible company policy that demands a return to work on a full-time basis only.
A different path
Perhaps you have had a few years off work caring for young children and you now want to go back to work but can’t or don’t want to return to your previous role.
Mother-of-two and solicitor, Melissa Lammers, says she downsized her job after her first baby to avoid the stress of a busy city practice. She now teaches law subjects at her local TAFE and gives legal advice to family and friends. While Melissa obtained part-time work with relative ease, for some mothers gaining a suitable position can be as tricky as finding a lost dummy at bed-time!
Reflect for a moment on the skills you have earned as a mother – carer, housekeeper, function organiser, caterer, nurse, cab driver, gardener/handyman services…got the picture? These intrinsic skills are ideal for the work available at home and family care agencies such as Dial-An-Angel. According to its CEO Danielle Robertson, they are always in need of suitably skilled and caring ‘angels’.
Robertson says the work is perfect for mothers to schedule around their family’s commitments. ‘Angels may elect to work any three hours or more - on days and at times suitable for them. It’s even their choice whether they work during school holidays or not.’
Alternatively, if you have office skills, adding your name to a list at a temp agency may be a perfect way to pave your way back into the workforce. If your skills are a bit rusty, the transition to work program funded by the Australian Government may be particularly helpful if you have been at home with children for more than two years. The program also provides assistance with resume writing, job applications and career counselling.
Doing your home-work
A rapidly growing band of mothers are shunning a traditional work milieu to work from home using modern technology. If it suits your position some employers may agree to telecommuting where instead of travelling to the office you use home and internet connection as a base. The drive behind the upsurge of mothers making this choice is that they can pursue a career structured around family life and not vice versa.
Another direction for home-based work is to take skills you already have and adapt them to a self-employment situation, or you could start up a home-based business from scratch. An array of new ideas and opportunities – from web content writer to expert scrapbooker – can be found at Business Mums Network.
After her first baby Char Robinson decided to utilise her extensive computer skills and establish a home-based multimedia business. She now co-operates Green Banana Hosting. Robinson offers her sage tips for surviving home-working: ‘Being disciplined about budgeting time and energy is important. As is making sure you factor in time to spend with the kids, and following your own interests. Creating office space and a ‘zone’ is also a great way to distinguish between work and home life.’
A party plan business has also traditionally fitted well with the family-work puzzle. Once limited to Tupperware, there are a cornucopia of products now sold through party plan – cosmetics, toys, books, clothing, interiors, to name a few. And if you enjoy working with kids, then consider starting a Family Day Care business where you care for a small group of children in your own home. Your own child will benefit from the social interaction and you can work flexible hours including nights and weekends.
Babies and books
What about incorporating study into your time out of the workforce to enhance career prospects for when you are ready to return? Don’t panic if the only pencil you’ve picked up in recent years has been to colour-in Wags the Dog!
Attending university or TAFE may at first sound daunting but Julie Bradshaw, Central Queensland University academic, says there are bridging courses available to rejuvenate those brain cells and bolster confidence before leaping straight in to a degree or certificate course.
She adds that mature age students are often so zealous to learn they do better than the younger students. Having motherhood as a prerequisite means you are well versed in the organisation and problem solving skills that are essential for achieving academically.
Mother-of-two Michelle Tolson completed her Bachelor of Arts with Psychology Honours when her first child was a baby. She began working at a child support agency and found this type of work so rewarding and open to other job prospects she decided to enrol for her Masters degree, specialising in Community Psychology. ‘The real motivation for the postgraduate studies is for our family’s future. I feel that it is more manageable while the children are younger as they have fewer school and social commitments.’
Still perplexed as to what direction to take? It may be worth investing in a few sessions with a life coach. Kate James, from Total Balance Coaching says being away from the workforce for even a short time can sap self-confidence and cause anxiety. A life coach can provide personalised advice and clarify direction.
by Kylie Carberry
Family friendly companies are listed on the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency website.
If you need information about your industrial rights when returning to work contact The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.
For advice, advocacy and support contact the Working Women’s Centre’s nationwide.
Transition to Work offers practical help, such as training and funding to help you develop your skills before going back to work.
Temps online - or your local phone directory for agencies.
Visit the Family Day Care website or phone the Child Care Hotline on 1800 670 305 to find the Family Day Care office closest to you.
For more information about university study contact individual institutions to check what courses are available on and off-campus.
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, May 2005. Updated July 2009.