Those of us who have taken a period of months away from work will know that returning can be the hardest part. Most of us would also say that the relationship you have with your manager is paramount to the long-term success of your return to work.
Building a strong relationship with your manager takes time, and extra effort needs to be made well before you even go on family-related leave. However, we don’t always have that luxury of time – all too often we are faced with business re-structures, which means reporting lines change and we find ourselves with the challenge of a new manager.
Getting to know your manager again needs to go to the top of your to-do list on return from leave. It can take many months to understand each other’s strengths, weaknesses and ways of communicating if you are newly working together, however, even if you’ve worked together for months or years, it’s good to put in the extra effort in the early days of return.
As a starting point, it’s useful to put yourself in your manager’s shoes and understand how they may be feeling about working with a returner from family-leave, who has potentially been out of the business for up to a year. Consider these questions:
How a returner may be feeling:
- ‘Will I still be respected as a professional by my team and manager now I am a parent too?’
- ‘How can I prove I am still committed to progressing?’
- ‘Will I get my confidence back?’
- ‘Will my baby settle in childcare whilst I’m at work?’
- ‘Will I and my baby feel separation anxiety?’
- ‘How will I manage part-time?’
- ‘Will my manager and colleagues treat me differently when I have to leave at 5pm?’
- ‘What will I do when my baby is sick?’
How a manager may be feeling:
- ‘What paperwork will I have to complete? What is the process for managing a returner?’
- ‘Will he/she be as committed and focused now?’
- ‘How much time off can he/she take if the baby falls ill and what is the procedure?’
- ‘Will he/she miss early or late meetings now?’
- ‘Is business knowledge out of date now and how will he/she catch up?’
- ‘What about travel now?’
- ‘Will he/she be able to cope with the more challenging projects this year or should I give them to someone else?’
What we notice here immediately is the commonality: both manager and returner has a list of questions, some insecurities; and overall, a strong need for reciprocal reassurance. After a lengthy period of not working together, or with a new manager/employee relationship, it takes time to rebuild a trusting relationship. If time isn’t spent on the relationship (from both sides), the danger is that unanswered questions then become assumptions, which can lead to misunderstanding and resent over the longer term.
- We’re all for quick wins – so meet your manager regularly during early days of return, and observe changes. Discuss any concerns, but also find ways to show where your strengths and interests are. Even if you think your manager knows you well, you HAVE changed and the business will have changed too.
- Consider putting together a career reintegration plan, where you set yourself a timeframe (3-6 months for example). Using the headings of People, Policies, Training, Communication and Culture, set up meetings with relevant people to find out what’s new and what’s current in each of these areas. You will then be able to locate any gaps and take actions to fill them.
- Be prepared to show some flexibility but know what your boundaries are and stick to them most of the time. For example, if you need to leave at 5pm to do the nursery run, but occasionally you have to finish something off later that evening for your manager, this should be appreciated as long as it doesn’t become expected every night.
Finally, the quote below is taken from this article written for Berkeley University in the US, and stresses the importance of actively managing the relationship with your manager – at all times:
It’s important to understand your boss – not just initially when you first begin working with one another, but throughout your relationship. On an ongoing basis, it’s important to communicate as priorities and concerns change….This is important because you and your boss are mutually dependent on one another…
Helen Letchfield is the Co-Founder of http://www.parentandprofessional.co.uk/, specialising in career management and coaching for working parents.