Embracing change: Our journeys returning to work from parental leave at a thriving tech scale-up

Allie Shewan
|February 27, 2024

Becoming a parent is a life-altering experience. For many, navigating the return to work after parental leave is a significant milestone. Allie (Senior People Manager) and Laura (Senior Engineering Manager) both had children in 2022, each stepping away from the professional arena to embrace the role of new parent for a year. In this blog post, Allie and Laura share their experiences of returning to work at Prolific.

The Scale-up Growth Spurt

Allie: Coming back to the (virtual) office after a year away was strange because it felt simultaneously the same and completely different. Everything felt more “slick” and professional - I think the team has nearly doubled in size.

Laura: When I stepped away from Prolific I knew that I’d return to a larger team with new goals and even bigger ambitions – and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve said to other people that returning to work after all this time feels like going into secondary school: I know some of the people and I recognise the structure, but it’s a bigger place with lots of new people and new opportunities! Even after a month, I'm still getting used to it. But, I'm confident I can do well and am excited about the new relationships I'm forming.

Adapting to Change

Laura: I was thankful for the opportunity to take time away to spend with my family. However, it was important to me to re-establish myself as a professional and capable individual outside of parenthood, so I’ve been looking forward to returning to work. Now that I’m back I find I can't work exactly as I did before, but I’m adapting by working on my techniques and setting reasonable expectations, for myself as much as anyone else.

Allie: The sheer volume of new faces, projects, and processes initially felt overwhelming when returning to work. I was having a difficult time thinking about work and projects in larger than 2 hour increments (for the parents reading this you’ll know what it’s like with a baby - you’re wondering how to make it to the next hour in one piece). However, I was given a lot of space and time to adapt to the changes at Prolific and in my role. Everyone was keen to have discussions with me and I didn’t do much except talk to people in the first few weeks back, which was really helpful.

Supportive Work Environment

Allie: One of the standout features of my return to work was the support and understanding from my colleagues and manager. Prolific’s culture prioritises work-life balance and recognises the importance of a healthy and supportive environment. This was particularly crucial for me as a new parent, as I needed flexibility to balance my professional responsibilities with the demands of parenthood.

Laura: Every Prolific employee has a generous annual learning and development budget. During my leave, I was able to apply this to professional maternity coaching. I met with my coach before, during, and after my leave. These sessions were extremely helpful and helped me understand my professional impact, goals, and how to balance my work with my new circumstances.

Flexible Work Culture in Action

Laura: Having a culture of flexible working has always been a great benefit, but especially so when transitioning back to work. My partner and I have been able to arrange childcare and nursery pick-ups around core hours, and I continue to work part-time as I did before I went on parental leave. Importantly, I feel I can balance my schedule without guilt, with the support of my team.

Allie: Flexible work hours and remote work options allowed me to manage my schedule more effectively, ensuring that I could meet both professional and personal obligations. The first winter in daycare has been really challenging with illnesses and I’ve needed to move my schedule around many times and I’ve had no difficulty or questions when doing that.

Navigating Parenthood and Professionalism

Allie: Open communication channels and transparent discussions about expectations have enabled me to navigate this delicate balance of parenthood and work confidently. I live in Canada and was unable to travel to the UK in December for our annual Prolificon meet up because I was very nervous about traveling without my daughter, especially just returning back to work. I was never pressured to attend and I can’t say how grateful I am for that support.

Laura: Helping others is an essential part of who I am. Every day I find myself using skills I learned at home at work, and vice versa: I firmly believe these combined experiences make me a better person and more effective manager.

At work, I run an exercise called value mapping with my team to understand what's important to them as individuals. I do this for myself, too, and it's interesting to see how my priorities has changed over time. Thinking through these values have been useful in helping me establish boundaries and balance between my family and work roles.

I’m also thankful to be able to talk with other new parents I know through work, including Allie. Having other people with the same professional context and family timeline was nice, and I appreciated the shared experience.

Prolific’s Principles

Laura: Change is rapid at Prolific, but our people and our principles have set a fantastic culture that celebrates and supports individuals at any stage of their lives. Slotting back in to work after having a child is challenging and ongoing, but I feel positive returning to work here knowing I have support from my team and company.

Allie: Returning to work from parental leave can be a scary, especially in a tech company that has experienced significant growth. My experience has been a testament to the power of a supportive and flexible workplace culture. As I continue my journey as a professional and a parent, I'm grateful to be part of a company that values its team members and is committed to fostering an environment where both personal and professional growth can thrive.