Choosing If and When to Return to Work after Maternity Leave

Updated on October 29, 2016
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Alison is a member of the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, and currently works in Public Practice Accounting.

When is the right time?

Many women have a lingering thought in the back of their minds as paid maternity leave draws to a close... returning to the workforce. Many women take only the legislated minimum leave, and feel pressured into returning to work; often for financial and career reasons. Questions such as "If I don't return to work now, I might find it impossible to find a job after a long workplace absence" and "I can't provide my child with the best in life without contributing to household income" ring true to many women. So when is the 'right' time, and how many days and hours should you work? Who will care for your baby should you return to work?

Managing Finances

The first factor to consider is your household income. What are the after tax earnings of your partner? Are you eligible for any government benefits, and how will these be affected if you return to work? Budget planning is absolutely essential. Start by creating a budget for your monthly household expenses based on your current circumstances. Include the large expenses such as rent or mortgage payments, and try to include every single amount expended on a regular basis, such as utilities, fuel, food and car expenses.

A great starting point for accurate figures are your bank statements. Add up all food expenses for the last 3 months (as an example, all entries for Walmart on your bank statement) and divide by 3 to find your monthly average grocery shop. Repeat for all other expenses, including fuel, internet, insurance payments and credit card repayments. Microsoft have great free budget templates available:

https://templates.office.com/en-au/Simple-budget-TM00000050

Have a look at the "per month remaining" on your budget - is this a positive or negative amount? A negative amount denotes your outgoings are higher than your household income. Review your budget and look for potential savings. Can any expenses be reduced? Do you have any non-essential expenses? Can you save money be switching internet, paid TV or cell phone providers? Have a look online for a better deal; hundreds of dollars can be saved in a year by making simple switches.

Now check your "per month remaining" on your budget again. Is this surplus enough to provide the lifestyle you want your family to have? Will there be enough left over for a family vacation each year? Enough for Birthdays and Christmas each year? If not, you may conclude you need to earn an income to increase your budget surplus.

The Career Woman

You may find your household has enough surplus income for your lifestyle, yet perhaps you wish to return to work for career reasons. After all, you worked incredibly hard for four years to earn your college degree, and worked even harder to establish and progress your career. It would be a shame to lose everything you dedicated yourself to obtain.

Do you have a flexible employer? Is there any legislation in your country which requires your employer to consider allowing you to work part-time hours in a job you previously held as full time? Many modern employers are very accommodating to women returning to the workforce, and will often work with you to balance your needs with the needs of the company. You may wish to consider a phased return to work - perhaps for two days a week for the first couple of months, followed by three days a week for the next couple. This is a great way to transition both you and your baby into your return to work.

Do you have family who can look after your baby while you are working? If childcare is the best option for you, what is the cost benefit to you? Will you earn $150 per day after tax, but have to pay $80 for childcare? Research local childcare to find the out of pocket cost to you. If the difference between your after tax earnings and childcare costs seem too low to be viable, could you discuss this with your employer? If your employee values you and your contribution, you may find they are willing to give you a pay rise to assist with your childcare expenses.

The social benefit to returning to work should not be overlooked. Many of our friends are also our colleagues and former colleagues. Stay at home mom's often feel isolated from adult conversation. Work is a great place for social chats on adult topics on break times.

Juggling Life's Priorities

Making The Decision

The most important factor to remember, choosing when and for how many hours you return to work is an entirely personal choice. Do not be pressured by the choices your friends and family made after starting a family. Remember that the majority of us had mothers who gave birth to us in an entirely different era, where a single income was almost always enough to pay the bills and have a good lifestyle. Many of us had mothers who never had careers, and were faced with very different challenges in life.

Make a choice that you feel serves your needs and your family's needs the best. Your child will love you unconditionally, regardless of if you work or not.

Work - Life Balance

Returning To Work... Have Your Say

When do you think is the 'right' time for a woman to return to work after childbirth?

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Let the good times roll!

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