In a recent Australian study, researchers found that poor employment conditions can have a significant impact on the mental health of Australian mothers who return to work before their children have turned one. We know that workplaces in Hong Kong are not known to be mental health-friendly. Returning to work, your maternal and mental health issues will likely be intertwined. Though it’s evolving, the pervasive view in Hong Kong at the moment is that workplaces don’t have a place in the mental health of their employees, even though a 2014 study by HKU found that over 90% of employees said they needed better mental health support at work. It’s difficult to separate mental wellness and productivity. As a new mom returning to work, how can you make sure you’re keeping well at work?
In the second of our series on the importance of mental wellbeing after childbirth, we spoke with Dr. Zoe Fortune, CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong, for some practical tips in the office for making the transition back to work a bit easier. For more tips at-home and more background on mental wellness after giving birth, please visit Part One.
At-the-office tips to make returning to work easier
Speak to your manager or HR team before your return to work
Set realistic expectations, ask questions and have a conversation to ‘catch up’ on what has been happening before you return. Some questions to consider:
- Is it possible to avoid travel for the first few months? If travel is necessary and you are breastfeeding, can you bring baby and (if necessary), your helper or partner along?
- Raise that you may need some days of working flexibly for doctor appointments etc. for you and baby.
- If necessary, agree on out-of-office hours when you will not be available. Many people choose to leave the office at 5pm in order to spend a few hours with their children and then will log back on later in the evening.
Return to work in the middle of the week or consider a phased return
If possible, schedule your return on a Wednesday or Thursday. With only a few days of work to get through during your first week, you can ease your way in. Alternately, consider working part-time at first and easing in to a full time schedule.
Focus on being as productive as possible during your work hours
Start by setting yourself up by scheduling a meeting with your boss in the first few days back to catch up will go a long way. Focus on going over any important changes and how you should prioritise your time.
If you’re breastfeeding:
- Speak to someone on your team about where and when you will be able to pump.
- Make sure you have a safe workspace and are not exposed to harmful agents.
Get organised at home
Different techniques work for different families but getting organised at home can take a lot of the stress out of the day-to-day. Sit down on Sundays to make a food and activity schedule for the week so your partner, helper and kids are all aware of who is where and who is responsible for what. There are lots of capable hands in your house, it doesn’t all have to be your responsibility!
Your employer cannot discriminate against you or treat you less favorably when you return to work on the grounds of sex, pregnancy and/or family status.
Both direct and indirect discrimination are prohibited. Examples of discrimination include termination, denial of opportunities, and placing you at a disadvantage.
Make some time for yourself
We don’t need to tell you that you have a lot on your plate. Make sure you’re looking after your physical health. That time you take away from your family to go for a walk by yourself or with a friend, attend a class or listen to music will make you a better parent and partner.
If you feel overwhelmed, stressed or depleted, seek support at work and at home
Do some research into what resources are available at your company. A lot of companies will have an employee assistance program, perhaps with resources specific to mothers returning to work such as benefits, support groups, or health talks etc. At work, talk to your supervisor about how and where you should spend your time. At home, know that not everything has to be at 100% every day. Some days it’s ok if the house isn’t spotless or your kids’ clothes don’t match. Even having a helper at home, we all have days when we forgot something like dress-up day at school but in the grand scheme of things, these are minor bumps in the road.