Careers advice

Returning from maternity leave: when and how

Some practical tips.

Returning from maternity leave can quickly sneak up on you., At the beginning it seems like you’ve got months of cuddles, coffee dates and playgroup ahead of you, and then all of a sudden your return date is just around the corner.

But when is the right time, and how do you go about getting back into the swing of working life? While everyone’s situation is different, we've put together a few (hopefully) helpful tips to get you thinking about which approach could work for you.

When should I return from maternity leave?

Generally speaking, you’ll have agreed a date for your return to work with your employer before you went on maternity leave.

However, this doesn’t mean you’re 100% tied to this timeframe. Pregnancies don’t come with a schedule neatly mapped out for you, so there’s a degree of flexibility if your circumstances, or preferences change:

1. If you want go to back to work earlier than agreed

Usually, you’ll need to agree an early return to work with your employer, and they might want to see a medical certificate to demonstrate you’re fit to return.

If your employer is happy for this, you’ll need to write a letter indicating your intention to return 21 days prior to your first day back.

2. What if you want to extend your maternity leave?

How much maternity leave you’re entitled to will depend on a number of factors surrounding your employment history. Employment New Zealand has a useful tool you can use to help you calculate your maternity leave entitlement.

If you need to extend your time away from work as a result of your pregnancy, you’ll need to talk to your employer about what options you have. This could include, for example, using some of your annual leave, or other types of leave.

You might be able to extend your maternity leave by talking to your employer.

3. What happens if you don’t want to return to work after maternity leave?

Having a baby is a big change, and maybe the arrangements you made prior to leaving aren’t right anymore.

In New Zealand, you can resign at any time while on maternity leave. There are few things to know if you decide to do this:

  • You still need to give notice, as per your employment agreement.
  • Your employment with that employer ends on the day you started maternity leave.
    • This means your leave allowances are only counted up until this period.
  • You’ll continue to receive government parental leave payments, if you’re still within that period.

Ultimately, only you’ll know if the original date you agreed with your employer feels right. If not, it’s best to have a chat with them and see if you can find a new timeframe that works for both parties, then thrash out the details of how that will work in practice.

If you don't want to go back to your employer, you'll need to do a few things.

How to return to work after maternity leave

Let’s deal with the formal stuff first, before getting into some approaches you could take.

If your job was kept open, and you’re planning on going back as agreed, you need to write to your employer 21 days before your first day to let them know your intentions.

The same 21 day rule applies in instances where your employer wasn’t able to keep your job open. This letter will indicate to them when you’re available for work, which in turn instigates your period of preference. This is a 26 week period in which the employer, if they have a vacant role really similar to the one you left, they have to offer it to you first.

Tips for getting back into things:

  • “Keeping in touch days”: this is a scheme that allows Kiwis on parental leave to work from time to time, allowing you to stay connected to your employer. There are a few rules around these, (for example, you can’t use these days in the first 28 days after your baby is born), so it’s worth checking out the Employment New Zealand page to find out if this could work for you.
  • Think about your schedule: how can you be flexible with your hours/days of work to let you split your time between the office and home? Many new mums come back on part-time hours and gradually increase this back to where they were before.
  • Keep open communication channels with your boss: any decent manager will want to know how you’re finding the transition, and it’s important to communicate well. For example, if you used to travel a lot before maternity leave, it might be that you want to reduce this in the short-term, or find different ways of achieving the same results.
  • Go easy on yourself: the transition isn’t always easy, and there will probably be moments (or days, or weeks) when you question if you’re doing the right thing, especially if your little one is taking a while to settle into daycare or constantly sick. Try not to get frustrated if this happens, and know things will improve. Of course, if they don’t, don’t put pressure on yourself. It might just be time for a rethink about what is best for you and your family.