Returning to work after having a baby can be a daunting prospect: Will I still be able to perform in my role? Will my child feel abandoned? What about breastfeeding, childcare, workload, logistics? Martyna Wojas, Everli’s Head of Operations in Poland, has just returned from her maternity leave and shares her experience of returning to Everli after having her first baby – and we’re glad to have her back!
How long was your maternity leave, and how was it?
In total, I was on maternity leave for one year. According to Polish law, you can opt to take a year off on 80% salary, or you can take 6 months off on full pay with the option to prolong it for a further 6 months on reduced pay.
Initially, I chose the 6 month option, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t long enough; neither me nor my son were ready. So, I met with my manager over a coffee to talk it over, and she was very understanding of my need to extend my maternity leave.
In terms of how it has been, well, it’s changed my life! It’s a time for unconditional love and learning how to take care of another person in a way that you could never have done before. But it was also a year in which I felt a lot of exhaustion. In Poland we refer to maternity leave as “urlop” which is associated with vacation time, a time to rest. So, first of all we shouldn’t call it that! It’s more like the equivalent of having two full time jobs with a hormonal mix of feelings thrown in.
Ultimately it is a very rewarding time, but it’s also a time where you need to learn how to take care of your needs too. This is the part I learned during the second half of my maternity leave (which is why it was so important for me to be able to extend it). I realised that fulfilling my needs is critical to becoming a better parent.
The first 6 months I was really exhausted, I had to learn how to do things really quickly. But how to cope with the change to my life, that I learned in the second half of my maternity leave.
What are the challenges you’ve faced returning to Everli after your maternity leave?
They are mostly pretty practical ones. For example, figuring out who would look after my child when I’m at the office. First we had to decide whether to get home childcare or to start my son at daycare. We are really lucky in that we have my mum and my mother-in-law who accepted the challenge! Deciding who should take sick leave when the baby is ill is something else we had to figure out, although, of course at the beginning while I’m breastfeeding, it will be me.
Planning breastfeeding is another one. My son could literally breastfeed every single hour, so I needed time to prepare him for the change in his routine. I planned how I was going to do it in advance so that he wouldn’t be too disrupted.
Another challenge was figuring out how to organise my home office so I wouldn’t be distracted on the days I work from home. My husband and I decided on who would stay home on which days, but it was important to me to have at least two days in the office in order to not be distracted at all.
Flexibility from Everli was also something I needed. Despite our mothers’ willingness to help out, they still have their own lives, and we found that we had one day a week without any childcare. I had saved a lot of vacation days during my maternity leave, and so I spoke to my manager who was happy for me to use them to take that day off every week.
Last, but definitely not least, dealing with my emotions and feelings was a bit of a challenge. Will my son feel abandoned? Will he miss his mum? This is also something I had to prepare myself for before I went back to work. But, it turns out those issues went better than expected; he coped with it better than I did.
What changes have you seen at Everli since you went on leave?
Well, I noticed the difference within minutes of my first day, when I went to our office space, looked through the window and I didn’t recognise anyone. I thought “Woah, so much has changed, I don’t know any of these people!” But it turned out my team had moved to a bigger room, so it wasn’t as dramatic a change as I first thought!
But, we have definitely grown and I noticed our structure has become more mature and more prepared for supporting new markets. The changes are probably more evident in the central teams. I also noticed that we have more mature monitoring tools at our disposal.
What I appreciated, though, was that not everything had changed. The atmosphere is still the same, with old and new colleagues still as warm and welcoming as usual, so I’m happy that hasn’t changed.
Are there any other initiatives at Everli that have helped you adjust to your new work/life balance?
With Everli, their flexibility with hybrid working has been a huge help. Having the freedom to decide when you will work at home vs the office has really made a difference to us.
I also appreciated the fitness allowance. After you have a baby, not only do you need to build your strength back physically, but mentally it’s important to exercise and have a bit of time to do something for yourself.
According to Polish law, mothers returning to work also get one hour a day for breastfeeding, this initiative has been great. Instead of working 8 hours, I work 7, starting 30 mins later and finishing 30 mins sooner. This takes a bit of pressure off and helps me to make sure my son is getting what he needs.
What advice or insights do you have for others returning to work after parental leave?
Definitely to be transparent with your manager and set boundaries from the get go. Have a clear understanding of what your needs, expectations and concerns are when you begin this journey. Setting boundaries is important because your life changes so much, you no longer have one job to worry about; you have your job, and then you have this other, crazy, 24-hour job that is being a parent.
Have a conversation with HR to understand the company maternity policy and how it can help you. Don’t force yourself to go back if you’re not ready and it’s possible to extend your leave. If I had started after the 6 months I had initially set, I probably wouldn’t have performed well in either of my ‘jobs’ as a worker or as a mother. After one year, not only was I ready to go back, but I was actively looking forward to it!
Baby brain is a thing. The first few days upon returning to work was an overload of information that left me feeling overwhelmed. But, by the fourth day my brain fog had started to clear and I was happy to be back. So, don’t be afraid to come back, you are absolutely capable of doing your job, but just remember to be patient and kind to yourself as you settle back in.
Bit of a random one, but I deep-cleaned and organised my house before I returned to work and it was really useful. By making everything easy to find, it avoided questions from our parents about where to find stuff. This minimised any distractions while I was at the office.
Finally, and most importantly, if you’re struggling to cope with your emotions, make sure you have someone to talk to. Whether it’s your partner, family member, your boss or a specialist, it’s very important to take care of your mental health as you navigate the new experience of being a working parent.
Flexible, family friendly jobs can be found at everli.com/careers.