17. July 2023 By Stefanie Ehrlich
From full-time mother to full-time employee – re-entering the workforce after parental leave
The challenge of finding a healthy balance between your job and taking care of your new-born child does not begin after birth, as most people might assume. For soon-to-be mothers in particular, the question arises a few months before they go on maternity leave: When will I return to work, and how many hours will I work?
These are also questions facing soon-to-be fathers, whom I do not want to leave out in this post. But while parental leave is an option for fathers – and I am pleased to see that a far greater number of fathers are now taking up this option – expectant mothers automatically take a break from work when they go on maternity leave, which lasts at least 14 weeks. This is prescribed by the Maternity Protection Act, this being done for the health and well-being of pregnant women and new mothers.
But what happens after that? I had to consider this question while pondering how my husband and I wanted to organise and split up our parental leave last winter when I was still pregnant. After wrestling with the question, spending many hours on the government’s parental pay calculator and – yes, as painful as that may be for expectant parents – crunching the numbers, my husband and I made our final decision:
I would be returning to work after seven months (two months maternity leave plus five months parental leave). And that is full time at full hours.
Three months until my return from parental leave
My team leader had already asked me before I went on maternity leave and parental leave if we could meet for a short check-in session about three months before I returned. One reason was to get to know my new baby and see how I was doing. On my side, I was also curious to find out what had changed at adesso and in my team. The other reason was to clarify whether my decision on when I wanted to return to work and how much I planned to work had changed whatsoever. Even before I gave birth, I had ruled out making any changes to my origin plan. Looking back on it, I can only smile. What was I thinking? My team leader was absolutely right: Priorities change after you give birth. Life with a child changes in such dramatic ways that are impossible to imagine before the child is there. There is no reason why you should not make some changes at this time – if they are necessary – and have frank a discussion about your plans with your employee and make adjustments if need be.
But luckily for me, I had – and continue to have – a really great partner at my side: my husband. And my daughter was not fussy and was easy to take care of. So I stood by my decision to return to my job full time after seven months. Seeing how accommodating and supportive adesso and my team leader had been during my pregnancy, I had little to worry about. Everything would be fine. If we are being honest, my mommy brain was far too busy thinking about how beautiful and wonderful my baby was to give much thought to work at that point.
But suddenly anxiety began to creep in.
As the day of my return drew closer and closer, my thoughts turned more and more to work. Besides certain expectations I had, there were a few concerns that went through my head about working full time as a consultant and project manager. After all, my day-to-way work involves lots of meetings and working with and at the client, with priorities often changing by the hour. The ability to really plan my day has never been something my job has offered. It requires a certain amount of flexibility, both mentality and in your dealings and actions.
When you have a small child at home, you realise that this limits your flexibility quite a lot in your daily work routine. Nursing, the close bond between mother and child, nap times for my child and above all the lack of sleep that, no matter what, every parent experiences were all things that made me realise it would not be quite as easy as I thought.
The main concerns and questions I had were as follows:
- How should I balance nursing with my day-to-day project work and all the meetings that come with this?
- Can I pump in the office, and how and where can I store the milk?
- Could my colleagues potentially feel uncomfortable with me pumping?
- What happens if I have to work away from home on a project at a customer site for several days?
- What if my little daughter wants to be with her mother and not have her father look after her full time?
It was the last point that prompted me to tack on an additional three weeks to my parental leave. In a manner of speaking, I used these weeks to handover my duties to my husband. Since children are not robots, my baby first had to get used to the fact that her father is now one who would be there to meet her every need. And my husband had to find out what she needed and what his day-to-day duties taking care of a baby full time would entail. It was much more like boot camp for my husband, with my daughter as the drill instructor.
But after a little more than nine months, it was time to go back to work at adesso.
A warm welcome back
At the meeting with my team leader to welcome me back, he was very friendly and in a good mood, which helped alleviate many of my concerns. A commonsensical approach was taken to find simple solutions, as one would expect from adesso. This is something that always sticks out to me.
My concerns about nursing and having to be in person in the office were quickly cleared up. We agreed that I would work primarily from the home while I was nursing. I went to the office to attend scheduled meetings, which turned out to be easier to manage than I had expected, as long as I had enough of a heads-up to make proper arrangements. With maternity leave, I was also entitled to up to one hour off each day to nurse my daughter until she reached the age of one. I therefore entered two half-hour blocks in my calendar for nursing. To tell the truth, I would sometimes just nod off for a brief moment to catch up on my sleep, if only for a short while. This and not having to commute allowed me make up for some of sleep I lost.
We also discussed how I would be deployed. I would not be required to work at a client site for several days or make long trips to visit a customer. I also requested that I not be sent on assignment to clients for more than a day where travel was required. I was not considered for projects where this would not be possible. After some time, a suitable project was found and I began my daily project work.
Some days, I had a hard time parting from my daughter or putting her down for even a moment. How my colleagues at adesso reacted to the situation made life at work easier. I was allowed to bring my daughter to any internal meeting. Quite quickly she also became the team’s ‘feel good manager’ in the project. Children are part of our lives and can be part of our work, too, as long as they do not get in the way too much. What I had previously seen as a project manager and consultant when I did not have children yet, I could now experience first-hand. Everyone was so considerate and showed understanding.
Parental leave and the impact it has on a woman’s career is a hotly debated topic in Germany. My blog post is not an explicit appeal to mothers to start working earlier or to return to work full time. I actually want to describe my experiences because I would like to show that you should and must decide for yourself what is right for you, your child and your unique circumstances. In my particular case, I chose to return to work early and work full time.
My goal here is to show that, given the right conditions, it was possible to plan my return after parental leave in a way that fit my needs, whether I did the planning or this was done by my team leader and adesso as my employer. At the same time, there is nothing wrong if plans change during your parental leave.
Both before and after parental leave, being honest and transparent in conveying my expectations and concerns has worked well for me. If both sides know what the situation will be like and what they can expect, it is possible to find solutions to any problem or obstacle that arises. As in any good partnership, communication and a willingness to compromise are the keys to success.
Now, after half a year back on the job, I can say that adesso has earned five out of five stars for me in terms of my work-life balance. If you want to find out what else adesso has to offer on this topic, please read the blog post from my colleague Jennifer Köhler ‘adesso goes family – how to achieve a healthy work-family balance’.
You will find more exciting topics from the adesso world in our latest blog posts.