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Stepping Back In: Strategies for a Smooth Return to Work After Family Leave

Alex Schaefer

Community Specialist, D2L Brightspace Community Team

After more than a year of enjoying (and enduring) the trials and tribulations that come with being a new parent, that inevitable moment arrives—the return to work. The emotions swirling as you step back into the office, after your life has already changed completely, are complex to say the least. On one hand, there’s a twinge of sadness as you entrust the daily care of your precious little one to someone new. On the other, there’s a sense of excitement and readiness to dive back into the professional arena. 

The Importance of a Smooth Transition 

When things feel uncertain, transitioning back to work seamlessly is more than a mere logistical necessity—it’s a crucial factor in maintaining productivity, work-life balance and a healthy mindset. The way we reintegrate into our work routines significantly influences our ability to shift focus and to feel comfortable doing so. A smooth transition sets the tone for a positive and productive experience. 

The Joy of Coming Back 

Returning to work isn’t just a return to emails and meetings; it’s a reunion with the familiar rhythm of a life you once knew well. The joy of being back is accentuated by those little moments—catching up with colleagues, diving into projects that challenge you and appreciating the comradery that you missed. For me, that meant learning (awkwardly) to converse with adults again and exist in an environment that wasn’t centered solely around my child. In other words, a complete shift in perspective. 

The Transition 

A seamless back-to-work transition relies heavily on the support of your team and leader. Re-entering an environment that values teamwork, empathy and familial priorities makes the return-to-work smoother. Initiatives like regular check-ins, clear communication channels and transparent documentation of ongoing projects facilitate a harmonious shift back into the workflow. 

Collaborative Culture and Team Support 

The continued support from my team has been the most influential factor in my return-to-work success. My teammates were new to me upon my return, and we have since become fast friends, sharing stories of motherhood and our mutual acknowledgement of hard truths. We continually hold space for each other when challenges arise, both personally and professionally.  

My leader has maintained consistent and empathetic communication throughout my transition. She has been a tireless cheerleader of mine since my first days at D2L, as that’s just who she is, and I have felt that support through every stage of my return.  

Our team remains on the same page, promoting a collective effort toward our shared goals. 

Lessons From Time Away and Setting the Tone for the Future 

Becoming a mom for the first time changed a lot of things for me mentally. Suddenly, I was faced with a major disruption of routine, a terrifying new level of responsibility, a love I’d never felt before, and a brand-new outlook on life. This combination made me feel like I was simultaneously both the strongest, and most uncertain I’d ever felt—which taught me that even if my footing was unsure, I could face challenges head-on and eventually, I’d be okay.  

How did all this help with my return-to-work? I decided I wanted to do better and be better in all aspects of my life. I’m a proud and passionate mother, and I feel that way about my career as well. I knew returning would be difficult, but I also knew I’d faced navigating unfamiliar terrain before, and I could do it again.  

Tips for Others 

Try to remember that this is a team sport, and you’re no novice. You aren’t setting out to tackle this on your own and if you fumble, there will be folks there to back you up.  

Consider whether you want to ease back in or hit the ground running. It’s up to you and your leader to discuss the pace of your return. Just be sure to keep that line of communication open. 

If you’re feeling nervous about meshing into your team again after being away for a while, my advice would be to maintain the mindset that you were gone, but you’re back now, and you’re focused on the present and future. It’s important to remember the fact that you weren’t taking a relaxing break; you were doing important work that helped you to grow into the person you are now. The fact that you were away raising your child in a personal capacity does not define your value to the team in a professional capacity. 

Steps you can take prior to your return to help ease the transition: 

  • Schedule a conversation with your leader and let them know how you’re feeling and what your/their expectations are. 
  • Ask your leader to create or collaborate on a plan for getting integrated back into tasks. 
  • Work on building or overhauling your personal brand and setting or revisiting your career goals. 
  • This will help you visualize yourself as a career professional once again, only with a fresh perspective. Boost your own confidence! 
  • Go easy on yourself and feel all the emotions. They are normal. 

The Takeaway 

Returning to work can be a positive and invigorating experience when approached with the right mindset. Embracing a collaborative culture, leaning on team support, and implementing effective communication strategies are crucial for a seamless transition. Learning from your time away and setting goals for the future contribute not only to personal growth but also to your experience in returning to a professional setting. Remember to maintain a healthy work-life balance and stay connected with your team. 

The future looks promising when you realize it’s filled with opportunities for growth and collaboration. With the lessons learned during your time away, you’re ready to tackle the challenges ahead. Be confident in the strength of your team and yourself.

Written by:

Alex Schaefer

Community Specialist, D2L Brightspace Community Team