Since taking maternity leave I no longer feel like part of the team

Don't worry - team building takes time, says Jeremy Bullmore.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 22 Nov 2016

I'm back at work after taking a year's maternity leave. Although everyone has been very supportive, I no longer feel like part of the team. They all coped just fine without me and I feel like I've become 'replaceable'. Have I inadvertently sabotaged my own career by taking a long baby break?

Jeremy Bullmore says: Teams begin to feel like teams - and to act like teams - in large part because of shared experiences. And the more intense the experience, the greater the bonding effect. A team that has worked together night and day for over a week, including a weekend, on a competitive pitch - and then won it - will feel an unspoken sense of belonging that may stay with them indefinitely.

In your year away, a lot will have happened. Your team will exchange shorthand references that mean a lot to them and nothing whatever to you. They won't be doing this with the deliberate intention of making you feel excluded; at the very worst, it's just insensitivity on their part. All this, I fear, is inevitable - and would be the case whatever the reason for your being away for a whole year. You mustn't start to think that you're somehow being penalised for having taken maternity leave.

All these rifts will begin to heal just as soon as you start playing a significant part in new projects; and that will take time. So, no: I don't think you've sabotaged your career.

Within a few months, you should be back on track. If you should decide to take a year's maternity leave again (and you mustn't let your current unhappiness deter you from doing so) you might consider applying to join a different team on your return.

It's rejoining old workmates only to find them comparative strangers that makes your present predicament so unsettling.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems at editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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