Starting a new job can be overwhelmingly stressful. If you're starting a new job when you're also an exhausted new parent, that stress level will more than double. When everything in life is new — from the new baby and boss in your life to hour new schedule and routines — it's nearly impossible not to be at least a bit off-kilter.
A new mother recently reached out to me to ask if I could “address new moms (or relatively new moms) starting a new job, especially when so much bandwidth and attention is required, and nerves are at play, too?”
In thinking about the best way to approach a new job when you are also a new parent, I turned to my favorite, long-time career coach (who, in full disclosure, happens to be my husband) for advice. Jason Levin of Ready Set Launch LLC explains that it’s normal to feel anxious about the transition. As is the case with any new job, you feel like you have to prove your competence to your new employer, you probably have high expectations of yourself and both your home and work environments are drastically different from what they once were.
As you transition into a new job as a new parent, keep in mind Jason’s four tips for success:
1. Focus on the quality of your work.
Think hard about how to deliver the best possible work product. Yes, you’re exhausted. Yes, you’re probably dealing with sick kiddos. Yes, concentration is likely a struggle. But focusing on quality is key to establishing yourself as a trusted brand with your new employer. Give yourself as much time as possible to arrive at a quality product. If you need help in the concentration department, try out the Pomodoro technique to get some of your focus back.
2. Communicate expectations about your schedule.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure you have an open and honest conversation with your manager about your schedule so that everyone is on the same page. You can enlist your manager’s help in determining how to communicate your schedule to other colleagues, and go in knowing that how you behave in the beginning, schedule-wise, can affect perceptions of how you will use your time in the future.
Particularly if you have negotiated a flexible schedule, think hard about setting strong boundaries at the beginning. Once you have developed your colleagues’ trust and expectations around when you will and won’t be available, you can loosen up a bit and be more flexible with your flexibility.
If you are still in the negotiation stages regarding flexibility and your schedule, check out the great advice here from the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance. Consider trial periods and committing to a split-shift as negotiation tools.
3. Learn your manager’s personality
The key to succeeding in any job often depends in part on the working relationship you develop with your manager. This relationship is especially important when you’re starting a new job and when you’re a new parent, as you’re in a more vulnerable position. Spend the first few weeks trying to get a sense of how this person works, her personality, and expectations. Does your manager say what she means? Is she into bigger picture strategy or focused on details? What type of communication does she prefer? How often? What does she value?
Consciously trying to get a sense of these data points about your new boss will help you navigate the best way to interact with her.
4. Prioritize relationship-building.
When you are so sleep-deprived that you feel like you could sleep for a year, it is understandably hard to focus and to engage with others. But you MUST prioritize building relationships within your new organization, and you need to commit time to this. Set realistic goals around relationship-building, and stick to them. Perhaps meet one new colleague for coffee, lunch or even a short chat per day.
Some practical tips on how to do this?
a. Use LinkedIn to identify colleagues at your new organization who may have gone to your same university, graduate school, etc. Reach out to them.
b. Take people up on their offers of introductions. Perhaps someone you know outside of work says “hey, I know so-and-so at your new employer. I can introduce you.” Follow up on this offer and meet that person you have in common.
c. Meet individuals from other departments (not just your own), to help you get a better understanding of the organization from a broader perspective.
d. Seek out other working parents. There’s likely to be an immediate bond between you, and they can help you navigate the culture around families and the workplace.
You only have the opportunity to be a new employee once. Take full advantage of that clean slate now to get to know as many people as you can throughout the organization. By building relationships from the beginning, you’ll be giving yourself your best shot at integrating well into the organization.
Finally, be kind to yourself...
These 4 strategies will set you on the path to a successful integration into your new role. I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to be kind and patient with yourself during this process, though. All transitions (and most especially, really big ones like these) take time. Be sure to focus on things that bring you calm. Get into routines that help you feel some rhythm, pattern, and consistency in your days. Hang in there, mama. And remember to celebrate having landed that new gig!
Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the founder of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and creator of the Mindful Return E-Course. A partner in the health care practice of a global law firm, she also is mama to two beautiful red-headed boys. Lori holds a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.