Returning to work after welcoming a child, recovering from a long illness or taking leave to care for an aging parent can be a challenging transition. Your priorities, sense of purpose and energy levels may have shifted. A coach can help you navigate the changes in both your personal and professional lives.
Through Talking Talent, I have worked with many new parents re-entering the workforce. We start with naming the parent’s current priorities and identifying how those may have shifted. Self-awareness is critical for setting expectations with colleagues and family members. In addition, there are four essential skills that support a smooth transition for people returning to work after an extended time away: stress tolerance, self-regard, assertiveness and flexibility.
Emma had just returned to her job as a lawyer after giving birth to her first child. She was stressed, tired and unsure of her future at the firm. She was considering leaving the firm to bring more balance to her life. I met Emma when she signed up for New Parent Career Coaching. Through coaching, Emma identified areas in her life that could be simplified. Within a few short months, Emma was bringing in new business to the firm, re-engaged at work and even got an unexpected raise.
She told me, "I stayed so organized at the conference. I've got two new networking leads, reconnected with a consultant who has three potential projects for me, and found an important connection for an existing client."
Emma’s story highlights the importance of one of the four essential skills: stress tolerance. Juggling a lot of change is often overwhelming. Many new parents benefit from prioritizing to help focus on the things that really matter most to them and practice the art of letting some things go — if not forever, then just for now.
If you find yourself in this situation, begin by assessing the aspects of your life that are adding to your stress. Is there anything that you can delegate to a colleague or another caregiver? Whether it’s asking for help with the laundry or giving a colleague an opportunity to build a new skill, you may be able to manage your stress by asking others to do more.
Another client, Christina, needed to work on another of the essential skills — self-regard. Christina returned to her financial services job after the birth of her son. She used her firm's New Parent Career Coaching program to help transition back to work. As someone who previously “worked constantly,” adjusting to a new routine was challenging and scary. When she returned to work, Christina became nervous when her team was successfully covering her duties and didn't seem to need her anymore. She wondered if they doubted her ability to handle her typical workload and be a parent simultaneously. She discovered that her doubts were self-induced.
“I’m so glad we talked about perception versus reality. I had a conversation with my managers and discussed expectations. Everyone said ‘take your time.’ I wasn’t being put off, they were trying to protect me. I took the time to reconnect with colleagues and junior staff,” she said.
Building emotional intelligence in self-regard means paying attention to self-talk and looking for ways to be kinder and more supportive of oneself. Assessing perception versus reality is often helpful in taking off some of the pressure new parents put on themselves. Do you have a list of things that you think you “should” be doing to be a good colleague or parent? It is likely that you are already doing enough. Your perception of what others expect or can do in their own lives, perhaps influenced by glossy, sun-kissed photos on social media, has been distorted.
If you find yourself in a pattern of negative self-talk, consider whether you would critique a close friend in the same manner. Can you offer yourself the same grace and acceptance to be human that you would a friend?
Assertiveness And Flexibility
Assertiveness and flexibility are the two other essential skills to smooth a transition back to the workforce. Assertiveness is simply asking for what you really want from a boss, teammates, a spouse/partner, extended family or other caregiver. Some people need to work through a plan, alone or with a coach, to identify what is most important to them and to have the courage to ask for the help or support they need. To build assertiveness on your own, start with identifying your priorities — personal, career and family. Once you are clear about what is important to you, it can become easier to ask for support in seeing those priorities through. You will also be more prepared to have conversations about those things that don’t make it to the top of the list. Communicating what you need is also about setting expectations with others about how your priorities and availability are shifting.
Flexibility is understanding things don't always go as planned. Adjusting to a flexible mindset is a common discussion when coaching new parents — how to roll with the flow more, expect the unexpected and create contingency plans for when things don't go perfectly (and they never go perfectly). If you find yourself struggling with the unpredictability of life with a young child, try coming up with a couple of backup plans to navigate whatever arises. Just like new parents get used to packing snacks, diapers and changes of clothes for any outing, you can take the same approach at the office. If you get called away for family needs, who can step in for a meeting or a day?
Everyone goes through periods of change in their lives and careers. Working with a coach to reconnect with values and create a plan can ease the experience. You can also do a self-assessment when facing a transition by asking yourself about how your priorities have shifted and what is important to you over the short and long-term. Finally, ask yourself if there is anything you need to stop doing — even temporarily — to improve your life.
*This article was first published on Forbes.