By -

Dear Anna,

I’ve just returned from parental leave to find other people working on all my projects and matters. Should I fight to get them back or accept that the type of work I do now will be different?

Understanding the reasons why work you did in the past is now being done by others gives you the strategies to get it back – if you want to. Start by thinking about your career goals and motivation for work. If your return to work has gone well and you are ready to get back into your previous work, there are practical steps you can take.

If you are looking to take your career in a slightly different direction, then taking steps to secure your old work is going to send mixed messages and cause confusion. If you want it back, here is how to do it. 

Homework

Familiarise yourself with the matters and projects that were active while you were on leave, who worked on them in the team, and who the key stakeholders were. Read these documents with the same focus that you would if you were transferring back from an overseas assignment or had been working in a different team or practice group.

Clients need to feel that you have made the effort to update yourself and partners need to see you being proactive to come up to speed. The colleague who may have been quietly thinking they might remain working on that client will have also been put on notice that it’s time to hand back the keys. 

Relationships

Make the effort to acknowledge the person who has been working on the client matters while you were away. Treat them in the same way you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed. A genuine thank you and, where possible, opportunities to work with a client together is what collaboration looks like in reality.

Discuss and document a transition plan with all the relevant stakeholders. Don’t be in a hurry to change the working relationships and insert yourself back in – better to do it well and take a couple of months longer than to rush in guns blazing and have it backfire. 

Time management

Every parent who has returned to work will tell you there are not enough hours in the day. If time management wasn’t your strength before you went on leave, it’s going to become your new best friend.

Keep your commitments to clients, be available when agreed, and make time for the value added activities that show clients and colleagues you are fully committed to them. Become great at managing expectations, providing realistic estimates, and giving clear instructions to your team.

If this all sounds like too much, think about focusing on one or two key clients or projects you find really enjoyable to work with and gradually increase over time. Integrating back into any team after any long absence will take dedication and focus. It’s definitely worth the effort.