Agency life is demanding. Newborns are demanding. Re-entry into any kind of workplace after a break has all kinds of challenges.
So what are the keys to success – at both job and motherhood – when you come back to an agency after maternity leave? We asked four new moms at 3Q Digital – all of whom have thrived and earned promotions post-maternity leave – for insights and advice on how to do more than just survive the transition.
What we got back ranged from philosophic to highly practical; most of it is advice that can also apply to every new parent (moms and dads alike). Get ready for some nitty-gritty on challenges, tips, and what the agency can do to help ease the transition.
What are the biggest challenges of rejoining the agency after a maternity leave?
Jessica Carr, Account Lead: The world of SEM changes on the daily – whether it’s new ways to do things, new betas, or a client changing up a strategy, I had to play catch-up a bit to figure out what went on during the 3 months I was out.
The other big challenge is going from full-time mom to working full-time again. I really had to make sure I was keeping a good work-life balance in the beginning so that I wasn’t stressed out. 3Q was amazing at helping me make a smooth transition back without a huge workload while I got back in the game.
Maureen Reardon Capozzoli, Sr. Production Services Manager: After spending three months being on a flexible schedule and doing everything based on the baby’s needs, it was quite an adjustment going back to the office after maternity leave. Balancing my workload throughout the day and finding enough time and a comfortable, private place to pump in the office was a challenge.
Dianne Manansala, Account Coordinator: My situation was a little different. When I joined 3Q, I was seven months pregnant. It was three months prior to my leave, and I was still going through training. I was determined to learn as much as I could before my leave to work against the fear that I would fall behind and have a harder time playing catch-up upon my return.
I was afraid that I wouldn’t remember what I spent so much time learning. Then, of course, there is the dreaded “baby brain”. (For those who aren’t familiar, baby brain, aka pregnancy brain, momnesia, etc., is a condition where new mothers become forgetful…and there is a proven correlation, sadly.)
When I returned to work, it was definitely a big challenge re-adjusting my focus from the baby to what I was learning at work each day. Although it was difficult, I still think my return to work went as smoothly as it could have gone thanks to my supportive family and team members.
Sana Ansari, VP of Media Operations: Given the size and rapid growth of our company, plus the internet marketing industry in general, there are frequent changes happening. After being on leave for three months, I had to get up to speed with all of the latest changes in the industry and within the company.
Do you have tips or advice for other new parents rejoining their position after a leave?
Carr: Make sure you’re managing your time at work as efficiently as you can so that you can maintain that work/life balance. Before I had a baby, I didn’t mind working late or weird hours, but you realize pretty quickly that when you have a family, balance is super-important, so I try to make sure that when I’m at work, my focus is 100% there. There are always going to be days at an agency where you have to stay late or answer that weekend email, but minimizing that as much as I can has been important.
Also: get a crock pot! The last thing you want to do when you get home is make dinner. Throw some stuff in before you leave, and it’s done when you get home (unless you’re like me and forget to plug it in – yep, totally happened :)).
Reardon Capozzoli: If you work for a company that has a flexible schedule and a work-from-home policy, I recommend taking full advantage of that. In retrospect, I should have discussed things with my manager and gotten special permission to WFH a few extra days a week so that I could nurse rather than pump in the office.
I also suggest completing all of your work that has specific deadlines during the normal work hours and saving everything else for after the baby has gone to sleep at night. This will allow you to spend a little more time with your baby while she is awake. When I first went back to work, I was leaving before the baby woke up in the morning and getting home just in time to give her a bath and put her to bed. It was pretty sad because I felt like I never got to see her.
Ansari: If you’re planning to return back to work in the office, be sure to introduce the bottle to your child around 4-6 weeks. This way you will have enough time to wean your child fully onto the bottle by the time you have to go into the office. If you don’t introduce the bottle with enough lead time, you may be faced with the difficulty of your baby refusing to take the bottle.
Manansala: If you’re breastfeeding, get an insulated bottle cooler and ice pack. Depending on which kind you get, you can keep milk in there safely for 10 hours. I prefer using this over the fridge in the office, plus you’re less likely to forget it.
Don’t forget to eat healthy! You could be drinking loads of caffeine and will probably be so distracted with baby and work, you’ll forget to eat. Try to balance it out by drinking lots of water and eating only the good stuff.
Get a Dropcam. My husband and I installed this so that we can see what baby Nate is up to at any time. It is basically a live feed of the living room at our house. I can even see him on my phone. With the saved footage, we can create time-lapses and capture as many moments as we can.
What do you wish you’d known about this process before you went through it?
Manansala: Right after I went on leave, I was still pregnant for about a week and a half (I was overdue). That week and a half was THE WORST. Not only was I uncomfortable, but the waiting made it agonizing. If I could go back, I would keep myself distracted with a light load of work or other activity until it felt closer to time.
Carr: Twelve weeks seems like a lot of time, but it goes by sooo fast and things still aren’t quite settled in the life of a newborn by the end of it. I know I was still getting woken up a ton at night, and work in the beginning was pretty exhausting.
If you were running an agency, what would you make sure to include in the maternity/paternity leave policy?
Reardon Capozzoli: If I was running an agency, I would include the option to start your leave a week or two before you have the baby in addition to the 12 weeks you are allowed to take after the baby is born. By the end of my pregnancy, I was pretty exhausted and still had so much to do to prepare for the baby, so not having to stress about work those last few weeks was very important to me.
Ansari: I think having a company that is very supportive and flexible (this definitely applies to 3Q) is important. 3Q’s work-from-home policy and more flexible hours make it easier for moms to adjust back into the work environment.
This isn’t necessarily part of a leave policy, but I would also gauge how many working parents there are and see if it makes sense to provide an in-office daycare program.
Manansala: I would have maternity leave apply to employees who have recently joined the company! Because I had just started, I actually did not use maternity leave.
Any other advice you think would be helpful?
Ansari: Don’t bind yourself to a set schedule. When you have a baby, unexpected things tend to pop up, so being able to start your day a little later, or end a little earlier and wrap up your work later at night, is a huge benefit. It makes things far less stressful, and with a newborn you’ve got enough stress as is.
Manansala: Enjoy every minute of being a new parent!