Juggling work & family life: tips to make the transition back to work a smooth one

Posted on March 2024 By Speller International
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We welcomed Keely Shay back to the Speller team late last year after 12 months of maternity leave. Jack Bland also welcomed a daughter mid last year and had 2 weeks off. Now they’re both back in the swing of work and parent life we sat down with them to discuss how they’re finding the balance, what’s been easy, what’s been a challenge and what needs to be done both internally with Speller and by the government to make returning to work after having children a smoother transition.

Tell us about your parental leave? How did you spend it?

JB: I took two weeks off and we mainly spent it around home getting into the swing of things. I found it was important to spend the time bonding with my daughter. We did some walks around the local area and as she was sleeping a lot I also managed to get in a bit of daddy daughter PS5 time!

KS: My first few weeks of leave were spent moving down to Geelong and getting our new house set up and ready for Valerie’s arrival. Once she arrived, I spent a lot of time just trying to work out how to look after a baby! Lots of learning curves, walks, naps and catch ups with friends.

How did you prepare to return to work?  

KS: In the lead up to my return to work I started organising for Valerie to stay at my parent’s house without me for a few hours at a time and gradually stretched the time out. I’m lucky enough to have my parents close by, so they were able to look after her 3 days a week until daycare started this year. We also did a lot of practice with a bottle, as prior to this she had only been breastfed. Luckily, she took to it quite quickly!

Expectations vs reality, what’s it like being back?  

KS: Being back is going a lot better than I thought it would! I was nervous about being away from Valerie and how we would both adjust. The first day back was a challenge, however it’s only gotten easier, and I find I look forward to my days up in Melbourne now and enjoy the commute. I was worried that I’d forgotten everything and would feel like I was starting again from scratch, however I picked it all back up within a couple of days and felt like I’d never left.


Have you had to adjust or change the way you work?

JB: The main thing I have found difficult is balancing time and tiredness. In recruitment hours are often long and sometimes it’s hard to balance staying late to get work done with wanting to spend time at home with my daughter and helping. I think it’s important to have effective time management which is something I could still probably improve. I have also found that with tiredness it’s hard to be on top of your game all the time and I have found my memory has suffered a little with sleep deprivation (which again is an important skill in recruitment) I have tried to rely more on written notes and prompts and making effective to do lists however I also think it’s important to cut yourself a bit of sack when you are in the trenches of having a young baby and accept that you probably are not going to be firing on all cylinders all of the time.

KS: Now that I’m only working 3 days, I make sure I plan my days well to get the most out of the shorter hours. It’s been an adjustment making sure I box everything off on a Thursday and something I’m still getting used to, but I feel like I am more productive now than I ever was prior to having a baby. I do occasionally have to log in on a day off to finish a task, but I’m finding I have to do that less now that I’m getting used to my new schedule.


How has Speller made it easy/tough to return to work?

JB: Speller has been great with flexibility around the birth and with flexible working hours so if I need to help in a morning or leave early I can. I think back to when I started in recruitment over 10 years again (or even before covid) and I was in the office 8.3-5.30 as a minimum every day and that was the expectation. I think flexible working is a huge help when having a baby. I would have ideally liked a little longer off work but I don't think that's really Speller’s fault, with us being a small business. I feel in Australia we are still behind some other Western countries with paternity leave legislation, and I think the government could take steps to improve this which would help young parents especially given there are so many immigrants (like us) who have no help from family.

KS: Speller has been very accommodating by allowing me to come back 3 days per week. We had the conversation about this even before I went on leave, so I knew that the option was there for me to come back part time when the time came. They also allow me to work from home if needed, so although I prefer coming into the office, it’s reassuring to know I can still do my job even if something comes up at home that stops me from being able to commute up to the office. Having this flexibility available to me has been key to making this transition back to work as stress-free and easy as possible.


What are the top things you can suggest to returning to work parents?

JB: Communicate with your partner and work out a routine that gives you both a break and some time to yourself where possible.

Expect to be tired – Its actually quite impressive how little sleep you can cope with and still be ok and get on with your life

Learn to embrace mornings!

KS: Plan ahead and organise as many day-care orientations or babysitting sessions as possible so your child can start to get more comfortable not having you there. It’s such a big change, so getting this practice in before you start can help reduce the stress on both sides. If possible, speak to your employer about the options for part time or flexibility early on, so you know going into your parental leave what the return to work might look like.


What are the top things employers can do to make the transition easier?

JB: I personally feel it’s not as much what employers can do but what can the government do. We have started to look at childcare and there are just not enough spots open. It makes returning to work difficult for my partner and the cost is very high. As mentioned above I think some of the legislation is out of date and does not encourage young couples to have babies in a time where the Australia population is aging.

KS: Reach out to the employee while they’re on leave to check in and see how they’re going. I always loved hearing from Speller while I was on leave – made me feel like I hadn’t been forgotten! If possible, have the conversation with employees about what a return to work might look like early on so you’re all on the same page. If working from home or reduced hours aren’t an option, then make sure the employee returning to work knows this well in advance so they can plan accordingly.


Returning to work and finding the right balance is tricky. Thank you Keely and Jack for sharing your insights and tips to making that transition as smooth as possible. ​