Charlotte Ashley-Roberts shares her thoughts as she prepares to return to the world of work after maternity leave

Over the festive season, our house, like many others, has been abuzz with preparations. And with a new addition to the family, it’s been ‘buzzier’ than ever. But along with all the gift-giving and decorations, I was also preparing for something extra: a return to work after nine months out of the office.

Returning to work after maternity leave, or any other long absence for that matter, is easier if it can be done gradually. I am fortunate to have a job I love, so I knew I would want to return to work after maternity leave, but I also have a flexible employer, so I could spend some time mulling over whether to return part time or full time. I kept my manager informed throughout my thought process, and six months into my maternity leave I had made my decision and we both knew I would be coming back part time.

Don’t be a stranger

The process began early on as I planned when I would visit the office for some ‘keeping in touch’ days. These help you to keep up to date with your worplace and ease back into the mindset of your day-to-day role. While you are away it can be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, for both you and your colleagues – that’s only natural. So spending a few days in the office also helps your manager and colleagues to start thinking about your return to work. 

But being away from the office for so long means there’s more to getting back to work than remembering your password.  I’ve realised I need to reacquaint myself with office etiquette, and with interacting with adults in a professional environment. And then there are all the changes to catch up on. 

I have of course been reading my RSC News and Chemistry World, which give me a good overview. But what about the nitty gritty: the small changes; the amendments to policies and working practices; the filing system tidy up; the one-off event that has become a permanent annual fixture?

Fortunately in my role I get to talk, a lot, so catching up on the comings, goings and changes (such as a complete rebrand) is fairly easy. I’m now up to speed on most things, but I know I will need to find my feet on others, and I know there will be projects waiting for me that I thought (hoped?) would be finished. And some new and exciting ones for me to get my teeth into. 

Routine analysis

Of course the biggest change I face is to my routine. I can’t catch up on a busy night’s lost sleep in the morning, or with naps during the day. And I have a new timetable putting pressures on my availability – I have to be strict on when I work and what I agree to since I won’t have time to waste, either in the office or outside. On top of that is the emotional aspect of leaving your child with someone else when you have been with them almost 24 hours a day since they arrived. It will take some time to readjust, and I’ll need the help of my colleagues and of course my ever-present and trusty diary full of lists (and a good alarm). 

If you are about to return to work, spend some days in the office beforehand, talking to your colleagues and your manager to learn about developments and changes, and to put yourself back in the frame. You also need to prepare for the fact that you are likely to have changed as a person. Whatever the reason you have been out of the workplace, your priorities may now be different – that’s something you need to acknowledge and possibly discuss with your manager. 

I feel ready to return and know it’s the right thing for me and my daughter, but as I know from talking to other parents, it’s not that easy for everyone. I would encourage you to come and talk to us if you are worried about returning to work after time out of your workplace – this could be before or after you return. We always have an ear to lend and we can help you decide what’s right for you.

If you have more advice you’d like to share about this month’s question – or have your own career conundrum for Charlotte – please write to