Maternity leave - a period of absence from work granted to a mother before and after the birth of her child. (dictionary)
As a working woman gearing up for motherhood, maternity leave is a phase to look forward to. This is the time to sit back and enjoy pregnancy, plan and prepare for the hospital stay while working on the new-born’s room.
The best way to approach a maternity leave is to plan it well, taking into consideration aspects like
* maternity policies in your organisation
* handing over responsibilities
* deciding whether you want to be available during your leave
* planning a return to work
* childcare and support network within the organisation
Inner Sense recommends you steadily work through each aspect, one at a time. This will ensure you have tied up all loose ends before going on leave and can focus on enjoying the transition from pregnancy to motherhood.
Here are some basic steps that will help organise maternity leave.
- Announce news to boss/co-workers
The thing about news is that if you’ve told one person, you’ve told everyone. Especially in an office. Keeping this in mind, it would be a good idea to talk about your pregnancy and impending maternity leave with the organisation boss and/or immediate supervisor at the earliest. When conversing with them, convey your awareness about responsibilities. Give assurance that you take work seriously, intend to return at the end of your leave and will work towards facilitating smooth handing over of responsibilities. This is likely to be one of the first conversations you will initiate before you go on leave and will need to be handled with care.
- Get company policy details from HR
Before you share the good news with your boss and colleagues, Inner Sense recommends going through your organisation’s rule book to get an idea about maternity policies. A basic idea of things to expect can be helpful when you approach the human resource department and seek information. Approach the HR department as many times as needed to assuage any confusion or doubt.
- Enquire about benefits
While you are with the HR getting clarity about policies, don’t forget to enquire about benefits that the company could offer to your child. Ask about adding your child’s name to insurance, check for childcare facilities offered by the organisation and financial aid for parents. In fact, we urge your partner also speak to HR for clarity on company policies and childcare benefits. This will help plan your maternity leave better.
- Make a transition plan
Penning down (or typing out) a work plan and getting it approved by the boss smoothens the way to maternity leave. Once you’ve put in your papers, you’ll be thinking in detail about your job, the nitty-gritty of who will take up your responsibilities and how. Put in some effort in a plan that covers
- details of your projects
- people who can/will handle said projects
- time dedicated to handing over said projects
- flexible work options for your return
- a communication plan during your leave to avoid being inundated with calls or emails
This gives your supervisor and boss positive feedback about your willingness to return to the company.
- Train & update
Among the first things to do once your maternity leave plan is in place, will be to make a decision - with your boss/supervisor - about co-workers or juniors who will handle your projects. Take time to discuss the responsibilities with each of the chosen co-worker to ensure he/she is comfortable and if they have any concerns. Be flexible as not everyone may be willing to take on extra work. Be assertive that the work will be handled by them only until you return. Create a training programme (if required) for these co-workers and allow them ample time to process details.
As and when the co-workers are on board, have conversations with your clients. Share your good news, give them updates about your maternity leave and introduce to them to individuals handling their work in your absence.
- Documentation & approvals
Detailed documents about the work you do and related information like emergency contacts, client expectations, deliverables, etc should be noted clearly. This detailed written document will help the boss and the co-worker handling your project. It will also ensure that in case of necessity, you can provide proof of having passed on all work-related details to the office. Cover your back with official approvals and keep track of all documents, even those from human resource. It’s about keeping your work future protected.
- Contact information updates
Returning to work after a break of 3 to 4 months can be stressful. One way to avoid this is to establish a communication plan with the office. There may be certain projects that require regular inputs - work out a suitable plan that allows participation in meetings via video calls. To stay updated with office proceedings, arrange a regular update session - this could be an email or a quick telephone conversation once a week. To stay abreast of office politics - and every office has them! - you could ask a reliable colleague to keep you in the loop.
- Plan your return
The world changes rapidly and your professional world is no different. So ‘being flexible’ and ‘mental preparedness for change’ need to be a part of the maternity leave plan, even though this is for when you return. Internal changes in the office space, a display of efficiency by the person who covered for you or even changes in top management – anything could happen in your absence. Be prepared to take everything in stride.
For those who work-from-home
- Extra effort & savings
Working from home is no different than working from a designated office space so almost all of the above-mentioned points apply to you too. But the financial aspect of working is what you may need to prioritise. If you and your partner have been planning for a family, then you’ll be aware of the need to put in some extra hours to give the savings a boost. But even if the pregnancy is a surprise, do try and carve out some time daily to work until you go on maternity leave. This way, you will not be battling anxiety over health and/or money.
- Collaboration & tie-up
As you work on the maternity leave plan, considering tying up with a fellow freelancer who can handle some of your works. This is something similar to temporarily allowing your colleague to work on a project when you are on leave. Come up with a work plan that allows for collaborations and tie-ups for a win-win situation. Inner Sense recommends chalking out this plan before talking to your clients.
- Inform clients
It is your ethical duty as a service/skill provider to be upfront with clients and share the news of your pregnancy. But be mentally prepared for both positive and negative reactions. Some people may be willing to work around your maternity leave and will be supportive. Others may have pressing requirements that cannot see you waiting. Tie-ups with fellow freelancers may allow you to offer alternative solutions to your clients without losing them.
- Childcare plan
Giving birth to a child and adjusting to a routine that sees you juggling yourself-partner-baby-work-home can be draining. Don’t add to the stress by trying to be a do-it-myself individual. If you intend to return to work at the earliest, arrange for house help or childcare. Let family or friends who’ve volunteered their babysitting services know of your needs – work out a timetable where they come in for a few hours daily and let you work in peace.