When the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to her first baby, Prince George, she returned to her royal duties when he was just 1 month old. But when Princess Charlotte arrived, Kate had more time off and didn't go back to work for 4 months.
But however long you choose to stay at home with your new baby, it's not uncommon for some mum's to begin to feel as if they're out of the career loop while on maternity leave, especially once those first few months when being a new mum occupies 100% of your time and energy are behind you.
So how can you stay engaged with your work life while looking after your newborn? Here are some tips to make sure you don't lose sight of your professional self while on maternity leave:
Keep in touch
Did you know you're allowed to work for up to 10 days while you're on maternity leave without it affecting when your leave ends or your maternity leave payments? These days are called keeping in touch (KIT) days. You and your employer must agree to them and the type of work you'll do before your leave starts - as well as how much you'll get paid - as KIT days are optional.
You could, for instance, use your KIT days to go on training days or workshops, or to attend meetings or conferences. In fact you can do any type of work on a KIT day, and you don't even have to work a full day. It can be a useful way of keeping up with what's happening at the office, including meeting new colleagues or clients and getting up to speed with any changes taking place that will affect you when you return. You may also want to use your KIT days towards the end of your maternity leave to help ease you back into work gradually.
Your employer has a legal right to reasonable contact with you while you're on maternity leave. This means they may get in touch with you by email, letter or phone - or even at a meeting in the workplace. But what is reasonable can vary from 1 person and workplace to another.
Reasonable contact can be positive for employees on maternity leave too. You may want to be kept in touch with things such as changes at work that will affect you, training, work or social events and job vacancies while you're away. Perhaps you also want to receive company newsletters or details of meetings and projects you've been working on while you're on maternity leave, as they can help to make you feel part of your working environment while you're not there, not to mention make your return to work easier.
The amount of reasonable contact and the method of contact should be agreed with your employer before you start your maternity leave, though you can change these details with agreement from your employer once your leave has begun.
Learn new skills
Despite the fact that looking after a baby is a full-time job in itself, many new mums find it gives them a bit of breathing space to pursue learning opportunities they were too busy to even think about when they were working full time.
You can find details of courses at your local adult education centre or university, or try doing an online course that you can complete at your own pace (for instance while your baby's sleeping). Here at CABA we also offer a range of personal and professional development courses for past and present ICAEW members, ACA student and their families that can help you develop your soft skills.
Getting back into work
Meanwhile, if you're currently on maternity leave and thinking about returning to work, there are a few important questions you may want to ask yourself first.
Should you work flexibly?
There are several types of flexible working that may be helpful if you need to change your working pattern when you return to work after maternity leave. These include:
- Part-time working
- Working from home
- Job sharing
- Shift swapping
- Compressed hours
- Flexible start and finish times
All employees in the UK have the right to request flexible working if they've worked for their current employer for at least 26 weeks on a continuous basis. But employers can turn down requests if there's a good business reason for doing so.
You can find out more about flexible working and how to request it by reading Is flexible working right for you?
Should you change your job?
Having a baby can make you look at your career differently, and you may feel it's time to take up a new challenge or move in a different direction. As a result it's not unusual for some new mothers to want a change of career rather than going back to their old job, as their priorities may have changed significantly as a result of being a parent.
Ask yourself what you want out of your new career, and whether you have the skills necessary to be successful. If you don't, retraining may be your best option - read our article Retraining for a new career to find out more.
Should you start your own business?
For some mothers not going back to work at all may be the best option - especially for those who are thinking of setting up their own business and becoming their own boss.
According to a survey by Workingmums.co.uk, 58% of mums have considered setting up their own business. In fact using your time off work after having a baby to start a business is a growing trend, called 'power' maternity leave. And the reason it may be a trend is that many women find being a new mother helps them identify ideas for childcare businesses, where they can put the skills they've already developed in their career to good use.
Indeed, the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest more than 800,000 women are self-employed and working part-time, with experts suggesting many so-called mumpreneurs set themselves up in business because the added flexibility this gives them helps them fit work around family life.
If you're thinking of changing your job or going self-employed, read our article Parents: should you change career or start your own business?
How CABA and ICAEW can help
If you're returning to work after a career break, ICAEW's Comeback Community can help. This online network provides a range of practical and professional services to support ICAEW members who want to get back into work. You can find out more details about the Comeback Community on the ICAEW website.
Meanwhile, whatever stage you're at in your career, we have a number of career development support services that could give you the help you need to make a success of your working life, including career adaptability courses and career coaching.
For more information on our career development support, call us on +44 (0) 1788 556 366 or chat to an advisor online 24 hours a day.