If there’s one thing that Maternity Leave teaches you, it’s that nobody is indispensable. However important you think your job is and however integral you think you are to the company, they will manage without you – and rightly so!
For anyone preparing to go on Maternity leave, this can play havoc with your already fluctuating hormones. On the one hand, you are crippled with guilt because you are leaving your company in the lurch for anything up to 12 months and on the other, you desperately hope that they will miss you when you are gone and be relieved when you return!
For the employer, they have to tread a delicate path: if they make too much of the inconvenience caused by you leaving, they risk making you feel even worse (and risk breaking numerous employment laws in the process). Conversely, if they reassure you by saying that everything will be fine in your absence, they risk making you feel worthless and dispensable!! It’s a tricky one for both parties – a considerate and forward-thinking employer will want to demonstrate a duty of care, allowing you to go off on leave able to fully focus on your new ‘adventure’. The dedicated employee will want to ensure that the transition is smooth and the impact minimised while they are away.
As someone who has to work and also loves their job, I am approaching my imminent Maternity leave with mixed feelings. However this will be my second child and so, having been through the process of leaving and returning once before, I feel much better prepared and equipped this time around.
I wrote previously about the challenges of returning to work after Maternity Leave (click here) and so I thought it might be useful to talk about my preparations for Mat Leave this time around, particularly in the context of working for a small business.
NB. This is based on my personal situation where I know I am definitely returning to work. It is worth reiterating that you are under no obligation to confirm your return date until later in your Maternity Leave and you may well decide not to return at all – clearly this is a very individual decision.
Breaking the news
When you break the news about your pregnancy is up to you and will depend on your situation. Legally, however, you must inform your employer by the end of the 15th week before your baby is due. This time, I was 4 months pregnant before I told my boss, partially to do with wanting to wait for the 12 weeks scan and also because I wanted to wait until he was back from holiday. One thing to bear in mind, if you wait several months like I did, you will have had lots of time to mentally adjust to the news and make a plan. Your boss however will be hearing it for the first time (unless you have been obviously suffering from morning sickness and have given the game away!). I made the mistake of presenting my boss with my carefully drawn up plan of action including detailed timescales regarding maternity leave and with hindsight, I should have given him time to digest the news first.
There are numerous reports of the issues women face after they announce they are pregnant – missing out on a promotion, being taken off key projects etc. Hopefully you will not face this prejudice but it would be naïve to pretend this doesn’t happen. All the more reason to judge your individual situation before announcing the news too early. Also, 9 months is a long time and it can be wise to wait a little while, at least until the 12 week scan confirms that all is well, before letting people know.
Think about a solution
An employee leaving on Maternity Leave presents a company with a problem, no matter how supportive and positive that company is. So, as is best practice when faced with any problem, it is useful if you can come up with a solution or at least, have some ideas about how to cover your role. This may be doing research about temporary solutions, thinking about internal options to cover workload or writing a draft advertisement for your replacement. If you don’t have a Job Description for your role – write one. All these things will be a useful support for your company in finding a solution.
You are legally entitled to time off for ante-natal classes and midwife appointments but you can minimise the impact of these appointments by planning in advance and ensuring that this is visible to your team (on your Outlook calendar for instance). Booking appointments at the beginning or end of the day will minimise disruption to your working day.
As we know, due dates are notoriously fickle but you will have a date to work towards. When you know what date you will finish work, it helps to plan backwards from this date to ensure that the necessary steps are taken to hand over before you go. If you need to train a replacement or if different people are ‘caretaking’ parts of your role, you may need to schedule several different training sessions to ensure they have a good understanding before you go. Planning this well in advance will help everyone adjust to your imminent absence.
The nesting instinct isn’t just relevant for your home – I don’t think my desk has ever been so tidy!
- Go through drawers and files and get everything streamlined.
- This is a great opportunity to clear out email folders and organise your PC documents. If someone will need access to your documents while you are away, ensure everything is clearly labelled. It really crystallises the mind when you realise that your boss may need to access your files – a scary thought!
- Check your storage capacity and if necessary, clear out Deleted or Sent Items to ensure your mailbox doesn’t grind to a halt after a few weeks.
- Unsubscribe from junk email (eg. Groupon), Linkedin updates, non-essential Blog subscriptions. This will make it much easier to clear your inbox when you return and is incredibly satisfying!
SOP (Standard Operating Procedure)
This is a great tool that I learnt from my lovely former colleagues at Capgemini. If there are parts of your role that are very process-driven and that someone will have to cover while you are away, start to write a ‘SOP’ for each of them. This is essentially a document with step-by-step instructions, the principle being that anyone could pick up the document and carry out the task or procedure. Like most of us, there will be lots of aspects of your role which you instinctively carry out without needing to think about it which is great until you have to train someone to take over. The SOP approach works particularly well for computer-based processes where you can use the ‘print screen’ function to take screen shots of the various stages of the task or process which you then embed in a Word document. This can be time consuming but is a great way to create a body of training material which you can then use for your replacement but also on an ongoing basis in the future. One word of warning, be wary of doing this too early. I prepared some of mine well in advance only to find that a couple of the systems had been upgraded making my lovingly prepared instructions obsolete – very annoying!
Visibility of information
If, like me, you carry a lot of information around in your head, now is the time to ensure that the important stuff is recorded somewhere. Examples that spring to mind are points of contact (for suppliers for instance), contact numbers, log in and password details. Some of this may be sensitive or confidential so make sure you save it securely and only give access to those that need to know.
Preparing to hand over
Whether training a new employee or handing over to an existing colleague, a great place to start is to create a list of daily, weekly monthly or quarterly tasks. Having a well organized list of tasks, and how frequently they should be done, will help a newcomer quickly acclimatise to your job and also know how to prioritize their tasks throughout your maternity leave. It is also a useful exercise to analyse the different elements of your role and can help if you need to write your own job description.
Out of Office
An obvious one but when the time comes to set your Out of Office, make it clear who people should contact, particularly if different people will be taking on different elements of your role.
Keeping in touch
You are entitled to 10 keeping in touch (KIT) days during your mat leave which is at the discretion of you and your employer. This may not be something you want to think about at this stage but worth bearing in mind in advance of your return. They can be useful if there are any important meetings while you are off which would be beneficial for you to attend or if there are tangible things which you could achieve in a day. For instance, if you would normally be involved in the recruitment process for your company and there are likely to be hires made while you are away, this could be a great use of a KIT day – enabling you to feel involved and minimise the impact on another team member’s time.
How often you want to be contacted during your mat leave is a matter for you and your company to agree. This will depend on your personal circumstances – some people are happy to have no contact whatsoever. For me, this would be the equivalent of being exiled for 6 months so in my case, I would prefer to keep in touch, if only on a monthly basis. Again, there is a balance between what works for you and what works for your company who will be understandably focused on business as usual.
Getting stuff done
If you are lucky to have a 2nd and 3rd trimester where you are feeling well, you will be amazed at how much you can get done. Having a deadline to work towards has made me more efficient and focused and in turn has helped me feel more prepared to leave knowing that things are in good shape. I have tried to focus on getting projects completed so that the team can focus on the daily operation for 6 months, hopefully without having to deal with any additional workload. This has also given me a feeling of control at a time when I have felt rather out of kilter.
Plan your return
I have already discussed in detail what my role will be on my return, clearly not everyone will be so lucky and indeed, you may not want to think about it just yet. If you do have an outline of the role you will come back to do, whether that it is staying exactly the same or changing, it is good to spend a bit of time reflecting on some of the things you will want to focus on. You may need additional training which could be planned in advance for instance. One of the issues I faced when I returned from mat leave last time was a lack of confidence and I’m under no illusion that I will feel differently this time. However, at least I am aware of this and by giving some thought now about my return, I think it will help me get up to speed more quickly when I get back. On a practical note, I am unlikely to be capable of rational thought for at least a few months so it makes sense to think about it now!
This list is by no means exhaustive and I’m sure there are other things I could be doing – I would love to hear of any other tips you can share if you have been through this yourself.
Anyway, as I count down my last 2 days before mat leave, I can now start worrying about some of the minor things like who will water the plant in my absence…and, oh yes, giving birth.
See you in 6 months!
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