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What you need to know about the realities of returning to work

August 13, 2019 | Daisy Bernard

Deutsche Bank's Mary Hynes-Martyn shares her expert advice

Returning to work after an extended break can be daunting ⁠— changing team dynamics, changing home life, changing regulations, all whilst remaining calm and productive. But with a little planning, the returner can come back stronger as an even greater asset to their team. It is possible to hit the ground running, bringing a fresh perspective and bringing a renewed focus on what's important and what's not.

This is something that Mary Hynes-Martyn will cover in her session at Women in Finance Dublin, September 12-13 2019, It's OK not to be a superwoman all the time: The realities of returning to work. 


Mary is the Head of Global Initiatives for Corporate Banking Operations & Technology at Deutsche Bank, where she responsible for large scale change programs.  Based on first-hand experience, Mary shares her tips for returning to work.


Let's start from the beginning what are your tips for returning to work after some time away?

Returning to work after a period of leave, be it maternity leave, medical leave, compassionate leave, or sabbatical, can be daunting.  It's easy to feel like the organisation has completely changed while you've been away, which can cause anxiety at the thought of returning to the office.  There are a couple of easy actions you can take in order to feel better prepared to reintegrate and perform after some time away.

The first is to casually meet with trusted colleagues to find out what has changed while you've been away.  Connecting with office confidants to get up to speed on the organisation demystifies the unknown, enabling you to feel re-engaged and more secure in the environment. The creation of a return to work plan also helps this transition. This plan should be agreed between you and your manager and outline both logistical arrangements and developmental goals.  Having a plan in place ensures expectations and next steps are clear for all involved parties, details what good looks like. Knowing expectations (and meeting them) builds confidence because you know the areas of focus and what needs to be addressed.   

Does networking come into play when returning to work, and what are good ways of going about this?

Networking is a natural way to ease the transition back to work.  As I have mentioned, meeting trusted colleagues for coffee or lunch before your return can give insights on what has changed while you have been away from the office. 

Additionally, attending networking or select office-wide events, both while out and post return, can also help you to continue to feel connected to the organisation and industry.  Having a tribe around you as you reintegrate is important as these people are the ones that will support and guide you as you transition back into the office, networking keeps these relationships fresh and sets the foundation for a successful return. 

How, if possible, can women stay relevant during their time away?

I think relevance is largely based on skills and contribution, which doesn't go away during a period of leave.  However, it is important to stay tapped into industry and organisational trends to remain current and connected to your professional life.  For shorter periods away, weeks or a few months, keeping current can be as simple as reading articles, attending conferences, or having casual conversations with colleagues or friends in the industry.  For individuals who take longer periods of leave, spanning several months or years, there are some great corporate return to work schemes and organisations, like Women Returners, that can help navigate this transition, including training opportunities and job shadowing.

If someone is returning to the same industry, is it necessary to re-learn, and how can they do this?

I am a firm believer in learning as a cornerstone of personal development, whether you are on leave or not.  In order to stay current, there is definitely an element of learning involved. However, this is true for all employees and thus returners shouldn't be scared by this - we're all in the same boat!  In returning to work, how you facilitate your learning really depends on the area of focus, however, I find conferences and workshops through professional associations great ways to pick up current industry thinking in a way that is manageable when balancing professional and personal commitments.

Getting back into work after an extended break can be a shock to the system. Do you have any advice for maintaining calm during this experience?

Calm comes from feeling in control and your support system (partner, child care, health care team, family, friends) is critical in doing that.  Work/life balance is not one size fits all. What works for others may not work for you, so it is really important to define your priorities in returning to work.  Are to you looking to maximise family time? Focus on your health? Hit the ground running for a promotion? Change roles? All of these things are doable but not at the same time and not with the same levels of support.  It is important to decide your personal and professional goals and build a support system around you that enables you to achieve them.    


Do you have any tips for overcoming imposter syndrome, or a lack of confidence when returning to work? 

After taking some time away it's common to feel a knock to your confidence, I personally experienced this after the birth of my oldest daughter.  Reflection is a helpful tool in reconnecting you with your professional achievements and getting your confidence back. Looking back at your achievements, and most importantly the journey and hurdles along the way, reminds you of your capabilities and resilience.  Knowing you have successfully overcome obstacles in the past helps give perspective and confidence ('I did it once I can do it again!'), which will position you to overcome this current transition period.

Please share any top tips for a smooth start back in the workplace.

Fundamentally it is important to recognise that your life has changed while you were on leave, so of course your experience at work will need to change as well.  Change is not good or bad, just different. Therefore coming up with a plan for how you will adapt is key. I think the smooth start back can be achieved in 3 simple steps:

    1. Define your top goals in returning to work and prioritise those.
    2. Agree a return to work plan that outlines these goals with your manager.
    3. Ensure you have the right support around you and leverage it.

Mary Hynes-Martyn will be speaking about the realities of returning to work at Women in Finance Dublin, 12-13th September 2019.