Experiences of occupational therapists returning to work after maternity leave

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Abstract

Background/aim

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a challenging, anxious and fraught experience for women, and has been portrayed in the literature as a generally negative experience. Interestingly, although occupational therapists were predominantly women, no research was found focussing on their experiences of returning to work after maternity leave. The aim of this research was to gain an insight into occupational therapists' experiences of returning to work following maternity leave.

Methods

Principles of interpretive phenomenological analysis were used to explore the individual experiences of six Australian occupational therapists returning to work after a period of maternity leave. Individual semi-structured interviews lasting up to 90 minutes were conducted. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and then analysed.

Results

Two major themes emerged from the analysis of interviews: compromise and feeling valued. The experience of returning to work was a process of compromise in which women found strategies to cope with their changing roles and demands, to find a balance between home and work life. The women wanted to feel valued by their managers and co-workers, as this enabled them to feel comfortable and confident with some of the compromises they made.

Conclusion

Occupational therapists returning to work after maternity leave will make compromises so that they can balance their home and work life. Occupational therapists value managers and co-workers who understand the compromises women make when returning to work following maternity leave and who create a supportive workplace that acknowledges and values their contribution.

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