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Speaker and career coach Donna Thistlethwaite shares steps for getting back to work after an extended break, with confidence.
QSuper is committed to connecting, educating and developing women to help them achieve their financial wellbeing. Donna Thistlethwaite is a speaker and career coach with a special interest in supporting
return-to-work mums. She recently shared with QSuper her very personal story of her journey from floundering to flourishing. Below, she shares some insights on transitioning back to work after parental leave.
Donna said employees, ideally, should try to stay connected with the workplace during a break from the work environment.
“Let your supervisor know if you are happy to come in for some social or professional development sessions. This can help to maintain relationships and feel as though you are staying abreast of your profession,” she said.1
She said helpful preparation for return-to-work could include:
Putting together a self-care plan (things to think about include exercise, a holiday and how you will maintain social connection).
Creating a meal plan so that you don’t have the daily stress about mealtime. This saves money and time too.
Identifying some meals that can be cooked in bulk and frozen to make night times less stressful. Donna cooks two trays of lasagne every six weeks. Once baked she cuts them into slices and freeze them for a quick once a week dinner.
Considering what can be outsourced now that you’ve got extra income, such as cleaning, gardening, or shopping online.
Creating a family schedule to keep track of who is doing school pickups, extra-curricular activities or attending work events.
Reaching out to your supervisor before your return to get an update on key events that have occurred, the team’s priorities and the role you will return to.
Open communication with your team and supervisor on your return to work was key, Donna said.
Have good conversations with your supervisor about the expectations of your new role.
Discuss any expectations for company after hours activities.
Discuss the process for time off for personal/family activities and sick and family leave.
Spend some time reflecting on your career aspirations and discuss these with your supervisor.
Recognise your strengths so that you can talk to your supervisor about where or how you can add the most value to the business.
Maintain open communication with your supervisor both during the transition and as a general practice.
Aim to be fully present at work and at home.
Be kind to yourself – children (and parents) get sick in the early days of childcare. Your boss is likely to know this. You might look to share the childcare with Dad and/or grandparents if possible.
Donna said employers, supervisors and team members all had a role to play in supporting employees returning to the workplace.
Maintain a connection with the employee during leave if the employee is comfortable to do so.
Engage with the employee’s staff or team in advance of their anticipated return.
Perhaps organise a team lunch at the end of the first week to enable the team to informally connect.
Make sure that you have a desk, IT access and associated resources set up so that the employee feels welcome.
Be transparent about changes to roles and collaborate with the employee about their preferences.
Be as flexible as possible in how, when and where the work is performed.
Be clear about the role expectations.
Communicate with the employee about their career aspirations.
Check in with them about how they are going and provide feedback from the employer’s perspective.
Donna ThistIethwaite left home Sunday afternoon to scout for the best parking location ahead of a planned return to the Story Bridge later that evening.
She parked the car, walked across the bridge twice then the voice in her head told her to ‘do it now’. She took off her shoes, climbed over the hand rail and faced the river below. Then she let go.
In the mental turmoil of the previous 48 hours, Donna had found clarity.
“I was at a stage where I just thought people would be better off without me. I thought I was going to lose my job, we’d lose the property, I concluded that my partner and my son would be better off with my life insurance money. There was no option in my mind, they would be better off without me,” she said.
Donna’s suicide attempt in August 2012 was one of more than 65,000 suicide attempts that happen in Australia each year.2 A total of 3,128 Australians took their own life in 2017 – an increase of 262 deaths over 2016.3
In the aftermath, Donna recognised that crippling self-doubt triggered at work contributed to her attempting to end her own life. “I had built a story in my head that didn’t reflect reality and I didn’t let people know what was going on. I can see now it would have been a very different outcome had I done that.
“When I look back now it is like it’s another person because if I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have been at that risk,” Donna told QSuper.
“It is OK to reach out for help. It is OK to put your hand up and work on your mental health and resilience all the time.”
If you or anyone you know needs help, contact Lifeline immediately on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.
1 Please note these are the views of Donna Thistlethwaite, and are not necessarily the views of the QSuper Board.
2 Lifeline, Statistics on Suicide in Australia, accessed 29 October 2018 at www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/lifeline-information/statistics-on-suicide-in-australia
3 Australian Bureau of Statistics, September 2018, Causes of Death, Australia, 2017, accessed 29 October 2018, at http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2017~Main%20Features~Intentional%20self-harm,%20key%20characteristics~3
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