Like it or not, we have all been accustomed to change in recent years. The pandemic has placed us all in a position in which we have experienced uncertainty and loss, and we may have noticed in ourselves the way in which we respond to change.


We tend to welcome change that we choose and have control over, but struggle where change is imposed on us and we are not in control.

We all have different preferences when it comes to change and this can help us to understand and predict our responses. Do you tend to seek significant change and variety on a regular basis? Or do you prefer to stick to routine and what is familiar?


Because our brains have evolved to have a negative bias, we have an unconscious tendency to worry or to predict what might go wrong.

But when we start to ask ourselves the question, “What do I want?”, we can identify what this looks like, break it down and start to take steps towards achieving it.

It can be hard to process the complex range of emotions that may impact our experience of change.


The SCARF Model


The SCARF Model was developed in 2008 by David Rock, in his paper, SCARF: a brain-based model

for collaborating with and influencing others.

Rock explains that as human beings, we are driven to minimise threat and maximise reward. He outlines the key elements of our human experience of change.

Below is my interpretation of Rock’s model and how it may be applied when making a significant change, such as returning to work, along with some coaching questions to support in navigating change.


1) Status – our relative importance to others


We all need to know that we matter; thinking that we don’t matter can be devastating. Returning to work to a part-time role or a lower grade role can really challenge us.

How important to you is your status at work? Does this matter or are you happy to derive that sense of ‘importance’ elsewhere, eg through your role as a mum, friend or community member?


2) Certainty – our ability to predict the future


While none of us can predict the future, gaining clarity around working patterns, working hours, financial security or reliable childcare are all areas in which we can increase our sense of certainty.


3) Autonomy – our sense of control over events


We can’t expect to have control over everything but we can choose to focus on what is within our control. When a client is feeling stuck or overwhelmed, I will sometimes ask, “What is within your control” or “What is not within your control?”

Just asking yourself or journaling your responses to these questions can help you gain clarity. And remember, we can only influence what IS within our control.


4) Relatedness – how safe we feel with others


Open communication is key here: if we feel we are being ‘kept in the loop’ this really helps. It really helps to discuss how and when you will communicate with your line manager and team ahead of, during maternity leave and on your return.

Forming key alliances is also super valuable – this may be by nurturing individual relationships or through networking groups in which you feel safe to share your experiences.

Key questions to ask yourself may include:

What would effective communication look like for me and for my team?

Who are the key people who help me to feel connected at work?


5) Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be


This may be our need to be treated fairly, in terms of access to opportunities at work; equality in terms of renumeration; requests for flexible working or remote or hybrid working.

Are you being treated fairly?

Do your colleagues feel that they are being treated fairly too?

What does it mean for you to be ‘treated fairly’?

What does this look like for your team or colleagues?

What could you do to start this conversation?

The SCARF model and the questions I have shared will hopefully prompt some reflection about your experience of change.

This may be sufficient or you may choose to seek further support in navigating your return or career change.

So how can coaching help?


One challenge is that everyone has an agenda. These might include:


  • Your partner
  • Your friends
  • Your mum or mother-in-law
  • Your boss or colleagues
  • As new mothers, we are bombarded with advice – in all areas of life. Returning to work or navigating a change can feel overwhelming. The brain fog can make it hard to find clarity on what we really want.


Coaching can help you to:


  • Overcome overwhelm and start to take action
  • Get clear on what you really want
  • Explore what you want in a neutral setting, free from judgement or someone else’s agenda.

Sarah Bramall is a partner coach with Careering into Motherhood.