If you’re approaching the end of your maternity leave, you’ll soon be having that dreaded meeting with your manager to discuss your return to work. Maybe you want to ask about going part-time, changing your role, or flexing your hours to fit in around your childcare. In all cases, it’s a daunting conversation to have and the stakes are high, for you and your employer.

So, what can you do in advance to make sure it goes smoothly and that the outcome is one that both parties will be happy with? Based on my own experience and the work I’ve done with other working mums, these are my top tips:

1. Clarify Your Boundaries

You can do this by asking yourself the following coaching questions. I’d always recommend writing your answers down or talking them through with someone else, as this will force you to answer them properly.  If you can’t answer them yet, you’re probably not quite ready to have the conversation.

  • In an ideal world, what would you like your new working arrangement to be (be specific!)? Where are you willing to compromise? Where are you absolutely not willing to compromise?
  • Are you able and willing to; work outside of office hours (i.e. evenings/weekends)? Travel for work? If the answer to either of these is “yes”, to what extent? (Again, be specific! You have to be clear with your boundaries from the start.)
  • What, specifically, would you like to walk away from the conversation with?

2. Role-Play The Conversation

Once you’re clear on your stance, role-play the conversation with a friend or partner. This may feel awkward and you might think it’s unnecessary, but believe me, even the most well thought-out plans can get muddled when you try to say them out loud.

The other person might also throw things at you that you hadn’t yet considered, which will help you prepare for every eventuality.

3. Visualise The Meeting Going Well

Spend some time visualising the meeting. Yes, that’s right, I want you to use all your senses to imagine the scene in as much detail as possible; what are you wearing? How does the room look? What emotions are you feeling? etc.

It might seem silly, but there’s an abundance of psychological research out there (and many stories of success from world class athletes) to suggest that doing this will increase your confidence, enhance your motivation and prime your brain for success.

4. Keep It Brief

When you’re in the meeting, try not to over-justify your requests. Remember, you are perfectly within your rights to make flexible working requests, and if the requests are reasonable, your company will most probably want to do what they can to accommodate them.

So, go in confidently, say what you want to say and then throw it over to them by asking, “What do you think?”.

As a final word, try not to worry too much about not getting the result you want. Instead, remind yourself of one of the core principles of coaching; that you are resourceful and, with the right mindset, can overcome any challenge that comes your way.

About Abby:

If you need further support or 1:1 coaching in order to prepare for your return to work interview, you can contact Abby Marcus from Bread + Butter, via her bloss profile.

Bread + Butter is a specialist coaching company on a mission to ‘help working parents thrive’. She is an ILM qualified Executive Coach, business psychologist and mum of two young children.

Abby is passionate about wellbeing and likes to work with clients to develop their confidence and personal brand, particularly after parental leave. She is a big believer in ‘work life harmony’ and since the pandemic, a lot of her work has been centred around helping working parents succeed professionally without sacrificing it at home.