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Episode 1

5 tips on returning to work after maternity leave

Melanie Lynam-Smith in her house in Meckenheim.
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“From Her For Her” with Melanie Lynam-Smith

Melanie Lynam-Smith is anything but average. Not only is she more successful than average but she also has a higher number of children compared to the German average of 1.3. Two, to be exact. After starting her career at Goldman-Sachs, she spent the next few years travelling all over the world as a strategy consultant with Deutsche Telekom, before marrying and settling down. Bursting with energy, she eagerly returned to her job after 12 months parental leave to find a few surprises waiting for her: a new boss, a new team, and new assignments. Some time has passed and Smith is back in the driving seat. We visited her in Meckenheim to ask her to give some useful tips she would have liked to receive.

Lynam-Smith on her way to work.

TIP #1: successful mothers need support too!

Women returning to work after a break need more support than some may care to think. That's why I recommend that you take the time early on to find out about what the company can offer. In larger companies, the human resources department will certainly be glad to help, although smaller companies cannot always offer that service. It definitely helps to stay in contact with trusted colleagues. Returning after a break is, in many ways, like starting over.

Melanie Lynam-Smith.

TIP #2: preparation is everything!

After a 12 month break, there is one thing which certainly won't change in your work life: preparation as the key to success. It just makes it that much easier for those who were able to seek support during a good time. For all those who don't have this privilege, I recommend taking time to communicate your situation clearly to superiors and colleagues.

Going back to work means preparation.

TIP#3: know yourself!

It’s easy to forget, and sometimes we aren’t even aware, but parental leave changes us a lot. Becoming a mother is a deep and personal experience. The person who returns, is a different person with new priorities, different goals and commitments. Things we take for granted at this time in our lives may surprise others. Give you and your colleagues time to get to know the 'new' you.

Chatting to a colleague at breaktime.

TIP #4: out of sight, out of mind!

You’re not the only one that changed; your workplace has too. If you are not at the office, you're not on your colleague’s minds. There may be new processes, projects, team members and superiors when you return. The most important information isn't stored on the server; project details are not immediately clear. Now, it's helpful to find out which policy decisions were important and why certain decisions were made. Get to know your company all over again!

Returning is a project which needs to be taken seriously. It's important not to underestimate the challenges ahead, but to face up to the fact that your absence will have triggered changes and these changes should be met with flexibility. Melanie Lynam-Smith

TIP #5: top priority: returning to work!

The most fundamental realisation for me was: returning is a project which needs to be taken seriously. It's important not to underestimate the challenges ahead, but to face up to the fact that your absence will have triggered changes and these changes should be met with flexibility. The most important thing is, your job should still be fun. Don't try to steer your career back onto the seemingly 'correct' path at all costs. With a healthy helping of ambition, hard work, and a little bit of luck, your return will be a resounding success for you.

Melanie Lynam-Smith at the Telekom Headquarter in Bonn.