How to successfully return to work after parental leave


Young father works on laptop when returning to work after parental leave
The most important facts about returning to work after parental leave

reading time: ca. 6 minutes

  • Returning to work after parental leave is often full of insecurity. Our tips for preparation make it easier to return to work.
  • Important questions such as the organisation of working hours, childcare, and finances should be clarified in advance.
  • It is helpful if discussions with the employer take place early on to reconcile the different expectations and to create the framework conditions for the return.
  • Even the leave itself can be put to good use, for example through regular networking or education.

Returning to work after parental leave is an exciting moment, but it can be a challenge. Young parents who want to return to their jobs often have many questions and uncertainties. It is particularly important that the comeback is well prepared – and that the employer supports the return through family-friendly measures and open communication.

Parental leave is an important part of life that most working parents go through – both mothers and fathers. When the end of the leave comes closer, the first questions arise: What needs to be considered? How can the reintegration into the old job be successful? Especially after a longer break, many fear that they will not be able to return to their old job and that their career will suffer.

The right to take a career break after the birth of a child is regulated differently in Europe.

In Germany, for example, up to three years of parental leave per child are possible, including 14 months with entitlement to parental allowance. In Romania and Austria there is a two-year paid break.

Swiss mothers are the worst off in Europe, with a maximum of 14 weeks maternity leave. For fathers, there is even only 2 weeks of family time.

Spanish parents can stay at home for up to three years, but usually go back to work quickly after maternity leave due to a lack of financial support from the state.

In France, too, there is great financial pressure to return to work immediately after maternity leave.

Parental leave is the end of the career?

Many parents fear that the baby break will damage their career or, in the worst case, even end it. But this does not have to be the case.

How well the reintegration into the workplace goes depends on various factors: These are, for example, the available childcare options, the division of tasks within the partnership, and, last but not least, the framework conditions provided by the company.

It is essential that the expectations of employees and employers match. This can be achieved through transparent communication right from the start and good preparation during parental leave.

In principle, nothing stands in the way of reconciling children and career: in times of New Work, flexible working time models and part-time arrangements are no longer uncommon.

However, it sometimes happens that mothers or fathers are not able to continue their old careers after returning from parental leave, despite good preparation. For example, because they are given less demanding roles or less responsibility.

Those who feel that they are being discriminated against because of their role as parents should seek support from an anti-discrimination agency or counselling. In the long run, it makes sense to consider looking for a new job.

Young mother in front of laptop plans to return after parental leave

The right preparation: What should be considered when returning to work after parental leave?

To ensure that the return to work goes as smoothly as possible, mothers and fathers can prepare a few things during parental leave.

Important questions that need to be clarified early on are, for example:

  • Finances: How does the family finance everyday life during and shortly after parental leave? Can financial losses be compensated? Is there state support such as parental allowance?
  • Childcare: Who will look for the child after parental leave so that it is possible to return to the previous job? Is there a place at a day care centre, kindergarten, or a babysitter available? Can somebody provide additional support, for example friends, neighbours, grandparents, or au pairs?
  • Own wishes for the start: When should the return to the former workplace take place? How many working hours are possible, and how will the working hours be distributed? Is it possible to return to work part-time?
  • Compatibility of work and family: Does the employer offer benefits such as flexible working hours and home office? How can the working relationship be structured so that both sides benefit?
  • Division of tasks: How do parents split up working hours, childcare, and household chores in the long term so that both can fulfil their (professional) wishes?

What are the entitlements and rights after parental leave?

The rights for employees after their parental leave are regulated differently in each country. It is therefore important to find out early on what legal rights exist.

These can be, for example, the following:

  • Guarantee of the same or equivalent job as specified in the employment contract
  • Right to part-time work after parental leave
  • Possibility of working reduced hours during parental leave
  • General protection against dismissal
  • Entitlement to financial support such as maternity or parental allowance

When does it make sense to return to work after parental leave?

The question of when it is best to return to work cannot be answered in a general way. The right time depends mainly on when suitable childcare is available, how the parents organise themselves – and whether the child is ready to spend some time in an extra-familial environment or not.

For example, both partners could possibly split the parental leave months. Or both reduce their working hours to part-time and take turns in childcare.

Father plays with his children during parental leave

In the past, labour researchers have found: The longer the break, the harder it was to return to work. Fortunately, nowadays New Work and home office make it easier to return to the job earlier, step by step.

Those who take longer to spend time with their families still don't have to live isolated from the working world. Digital communication enables regular contact with the old team and thanks to online training, specialist knowledge and professional skills can also be brought up to date from home.

How to make good use of parental leave

  • As soon as you are well established in everyday family life and cope with your new role, you can think of further training, attend online seminars, and update qualifications.
  • Keep up to date with professional journals, blogs, and industry newsletters.
  • Network and maintain business contacts.
  • Think about your future career: Getting back in the same job? Looking for a new employer? Or even make a new start in a different profession?
  • It is very important to plan some smaller breaks and time off so that you don't start the post-baby period completely exhausted.

6 tips for a successful return to work after parental leave

1. Planning well

Actually, the lead time is long enough – after all, there are about nine months before the birth in which expectant parents can think about their career plans. They should also use the subsequent parental leave for good preparation. They can learn about their rights and entitlements, define their own wishes for their comeback, and get their employer on board in good time.

2. Staying in touch

It makes sense to stay in touch with your employer and colleagues during your leave. This will make it easier to get back on track afterwards. Mothers and fathers on parental leave should communicate their plans for returning to work transparently in order to find solutions together with the company in advance. They can also negotiate the framework conditions under which the return to work will be successful for both sides.

3. Maintaining a work-life balance

Especially the first months after returning to work are not easy. Time is rare and demands are usually high. Good time management and forward planning help to reconcile everything. According to stress studies by health insurance companies, the lack of compatibility between work and family is one of the greatest stress factors of all and makes working parents particularly vulnerable to exhaustion and burnout. Therefore, they should make sure to schedule enough breaks to recharge their batteries.

4. Setting priorities

Most young parents who go back to work have one thing in common: far too high demands on themselves. Less perfectionism is good, even if it is hard. It is not possible to do everything perfectly. If you divide your time between your job, children, partnership, and more, you can't deliver 100 per cent in all areas. It helps to concentrate on the essentials and to set consistent priorities. This also benefits your mental health.

5. Strengthening self-confidence

Many employees with children suffer from self-doubt and uncertainty. Are their own abilities still in demand? Is the balancing act between child and career manageable? It is important to realise that many people feel this way. Moreover, soft skills are actually improved during the baby break: organisational skills, stress resistance, assertiveness, and empathy are just some of the skills that are stronger after parental leave than before.

6. Drawing up a budget

Money is an important topic during and after parental leave. To avoid a bad awakening, the own finances should be thought through in advance. After all, there will definitely be a reduction in income during the time off. And even after parental leave, it usually takes time to return to full-time work – if ever – and earn the usual salary. Therefore, draw up a budget at an early stage to find out what money is needed and to discover potential savings.

In conclusion: parental leave does not have to stop your career

Parental leave is not the end of a career. On the contrary: professional leave often leads to new motivation, fresh ideas, or a professional reorientation.

More and more companies are committed to reconciling career and family, so that parental leave and part-time employment are no longer a no-go, even for managers.

Encouraging parents to return to work is also worthwhile for companies. In times of a shortage of skilled workers, it is not easy to find good employees or to replace them temporarily. So, an earlier comeback is also valuable for employers. Moreover, it strengthens the loyalty of employees to the company.

One thing is certain: working out solutions together and offering family-friendly models is a win-win situation for both sides.

Looking for a new job to get back to work after parental leave?

Take a look at our vacancies and start over at OVB Holding.

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