Maneuvering the Maze of Maternity Leave: Preparation

HR leader Gretchen Van Vlymen is posting while pregnant on parental-leave benefits, sharing her insights as a professional and a mom-to-be. In this second installment she addresses what happens when an employee takes leave and coworkers must pick up their responsibilities.

Gretchen Van Vlymen, StratEx

As a first-time mom due in about a month, I am becoming more and more excited to take time off to bond with my new baby boy! However, as an HR consultant, I am also aware that not everyone at work may be as thrilled about the impending maternity leave as I am — and for good reason.

That’s because a lot changes when a teammate is out of the office for 12 weeks. Management may not know where to turn to get certain tasks accomplished, and those reporting to me could have questions that go unanswered, causing lots of unnecessary stress … all because I’m not there to help.

That said, I am a firm believer that success is driven by ample preparation. With a little extra effort, some of those scary leave issues can be avoided. Here are some basic tips that will make everyone’s life easier when your maternity leave rolls around:

  • Communicate early and often. Be sure to share the big news that you’re expecting sooner rather than later. Communicate your leave dates to internal parties first, and then to outside parties like clients or vendors whom you work with on a regular basis so all “need-to-know” parties are aware. When it comes to internal communication, common decorum is to inform upper management and then anyone who reports to you so that the folks at the top of the org chart are in the loop first. Your manager can help you develop a leave transition plan effectively before you roll it out to your employees.

Note: Keep in mind you may need to communicate with the HR department directly depending on how your organization functions, and that’s fine — supervisors are not always totally aware of the laws and policies surrounding maternity leave and going straight to HR may be better for all involved.

Please also read: Mapping Out Maternity Leave

It may be helpful to include leave/return dates in your email signature as a frequent reminder. Be sure to set up transition meetings a few months before you go to introduce your “back-up” to clients and vendors so everyone is acquainted. Also, have colleagues shadow you while you perform some of the duties they will be taking over so they get a feel for how they should mimic your own methodology.

  • Share the love! You are going to need your co-workers to pinch-hit for you while you are out. Make sure to spread your workload evenly amongst other team members, and play to the strengths of those colleagues who are taking on your functions temporarily. (For example, give data analysis duties to analytical team members, or graphic design duties to those who understand publishing or photo editing software.) Don’t overwhelm one single teammate with all of your work. They still have their own job to do!
  • Don’t delay — Practice makes perfect. Odds are that there are relatively complex activities associated with your job that must be transitioned. Sending a quick instructional email with a bullet point summary may work in some situations, but definitely not all. As mentioned before, these colleagues have their own jobs to do, so providing hands-on detailed instruction on how to handle your work load will help others support your job function while also maintaining their own with greater efficiency. Plus, you want the job to be done right. If you don’t give good insight and detail as to how you want these tasks completed, you will return to a big mess.

And whatever you do, don’t take it for granted that those around you are taking on more work in order for you to take time off to bond with a new baby. This should go without saying, but always remember to express your gratitude to those around you before you go — a “thank you” goes a long way!

Gretchen Van Vlymen, a 2016 Workforce Game Changer, is the head of HR at StratEx. She is also pregnant, so maternity leave policies are high priority for her. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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