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Careers Coach Tamsin Crook Answers Your Questions On Returning To Work

Missed our Working Mums Club Facebook chat with a careers coach? You can find all the expert advice she shared here

Taking those first steps towards getting back to work after you’ve had a baby or career break can be nerve-wracking. How can you make your new responsibilities as a mum fit in with your role at work? That’s where the Mother&Baby Working Mums Club can help. We’ve pulled together a range of experts to provide help and support for those trying to get back into the workplace.

And that's just what careers coach Tamsin Crook addressed in our Facebook Q&A on Thursday – your career path when you have a child. Tamsin is founder of Making Careers Work, a career counselling service working primarily with mums looking to return to work after maternity leave or an extended career break, or to help those looking to regain some balance within their professional and personal lives.

If you missed the chat, here’s what was covered…

I have a particular colleague at my job who is always making sly remarks when I have to leave work at 5.30pm on the dot to pick up my daughter. Should I talk to her, or talk to her line manager (who is also mine)?

This is a tricky one. I think that sometimes, those who don't have children do feel that they sometimes pick up the 'slack' for parents when they leave work on time. However, the hours that you work are a matter for you and your manager to decide, and shouldn't be the concern of anyone else.

If your colleague is struggling to cope with the workload, then she needs to have the discussion with her (and your) manager as making digs is not a helpful response. I would continue to be polite to your colleague, and possibly gently raise the issue with your manager, reinforcing the fact that you are completing your work as you need to.

Sadly 'face-time' (being seen to be at work for long periods of time) is something that’s become inherent in our working culture, even if people aren't being particularly productive during those hours. There is still 'kudos' to be had from working long hours and a feeling that you're letting the side down if you go on time. As long as you are working productively, completing the work that you need to do, I would just try to ignore your colleague.

"Sadly 'face-time' is something that’s become inherent in our working culture"

I’ve been on maternity leave from my legal secretary job for nearly a year and due to return in two months, but don’t really want to. The job is not what I want to be doing (I keep thinking about going into teaching). What advice do you have if I want to go in a completely different career direction?

I think that maternity leave often gives us an opportunity to rethink our careers. It's really important to make sure that if you are going to make a change to your career that you have really thought it through, and tested it out.

Sometimes, being away from a job on maternity leave can make you lose confidence in the role you have been doing, and sometimes that turns into fear of going back.

So I think you need to look at this in two ways, firstly whether you are absolutely sure that you don't want to return to your legal secretary job, and secondly, whether teaching is definitely what you want to do.

Have you been offered KIT (Keeping In Touch) days to start the process of returning to your old role? Sometimes they are helpful in building confidence and reminding you what you enjoyed about the job. If you still want to investigate teaching as an option, start doing some research – read their professional magazines (Times Educational Supplement etc) and check out teaching websites. If you still like what you're reading, try to talk to a number of teachers who may be able to give you some detail of their experiences. Testing out your ideas is the most important thing.

And also, look at the career change in the context of your life – can you afford the training and manage the required hours? Not many people stay in one 'career' their whole working life any more, so it's always possible to make the change – just make sure that you've really thought it through, and that you're making the change for the right reasons. Good luck!

"Look at a career change in the context of your life"

What exactly should I be doing on a KIT day? I had one the other day and just seemed to sit around chatting and drinking cups of tea (not that I’m complaining that much!). I feel there must be a bit more purpose to them but not really sure what!

Lucky for you, sitting around and chatting and drinking cups of teas is actually a vital part of re-socialising into the office environment!
It would be good to get a balance though – sometimes people use the KIT days to go along to team away days, training days or conferences, or to start familiarising themselves with what has been happening over the time that they've been away.

"Sometimes people use the KIT days to go along to team away days, training days or conferences"

You might want to build in some meetings with your manager or key clients or colleagues, and talk about when you are coming back, and what your priorities might be. It's basically an opportunity to keep in touch with the organisation while you're away.

If you don't use all your KIT days in the earlier part of the maternity leave, you can also discuss using them as a way of starting back at work without formally ending your maternity leave. For example, some people like to start off just working a couple of days a week to get themselves back into it, or to help with settling a child into a new childcare routine.

The important thing to remember though is that even if you only go in for a one-hour meeting, it counts as a full KIT day, so plan carefully with your employers.

I've been back at work for two months now and I'm still really missing my daughter and feeling guilty about going back to work. Any tips on how to cope with this? I know it's what I need to do and it's best for her, but it's tough.

There are a couple of things to think about. What is it you feel guilty about? If you can spend some time thinking about what you think you are missing out on (or what you think your daughter is missing out on) by you not being there, then you can start to address some of the issues.

If you feel guilty that you're not there to take her to the park, could you build that activity into your weekend plans? If you generally just feel that you should be the one looking after her, then I think you should take some comfort in the research that consistently says that as long as children are in really good quality childcare, it can be really beneficial for them, and certainly won't harm them.

Also, think about why you have chosen to go back to work – presumably you enjoy your job, or you need to work for financial reasons, or you like the independence and 'adult' interaction – maybe it’s a combination. All these outcomes of you working will help Elsie – either through you being a happier mum, or by allowing you a bit more financial freedom than you would have otherwise.

"Think about why you have chosen to go back to work"

If you feel guilty because you aren't happy with the childcare arrangements, or you feel you are working too long hours and you are personally stressed and upset, then it might be beneficial to look at alternatives. Spend a bit of time writing down all your concerns and things you feel guilty about, then write down all the positive elements of working. Try to make some constructive changes around the areas that you're really struggling with, and reinforce the positive aspects.

Also, I think that motherhood seems to bring guilt with it whatever you do. If you didn't work, you might feel guilty for something else! Try to let it go, though – focus on what you need to and want to change, and enjoy the benefits of what working brings you and your family.

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