You're in growth mode, and one of your top performers announces she's pregnant. It's her first. She's excited ... and a little nervous about work and her maternity leave.
And so are you. Having to say goodbye to a top performer, even for just a little bit, can make even the biggest baby lover a little anxious. But doing some prep work before your employee heads out on maternity leave can help ease that stress—and keep your team focused.
1. Review your maternity leave policy.
If you're not already well-versed on the terms of your company's maternity leave policy, now's the time to revisit it. Your pregnant employee will need to take some time off after the baby is born and will more than likely be looking for guidance on how much time she's allowed to take.
Knowing the terms of your maternity policy before you speak with her can go along way. If you have a Human Resources (HR) department, consider asking one of your representatives to update you on the company's maternity leave policy. Then, pull a copy of the policy for yourself and share it with your employee.
Remember: Your HR representative is there to help. If you do not have an HR team or a maternity leave policy in place, consider hiring an HR consultant to help you create one. They can help you navigate the process, including helping you understand any relevant business and legal issues.
2. Schedule a one-on-one meeting with the mom-to-be.
At the start of your meeting with your pregnant employee, congratulate her. Bringing a new baby into the world is an exciting, and sometimes frightening, experience. Knowing that she has your support may help ease some of her concerns.
After you've congratulated her, you can move on to the details of your company's maternity leave policy. Make sure she's clear on what the maternity leave policy is, where the details are located and the terms of the policy.
Some elements of maternity leave may be clear cut—for example, the U.S. Department of Labor requires "eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons."
Other pieces of the policy might be more vague. Take doctor visits for example. As she gets closer to her due date, those visits can be monthly, every two weeks or more frequent depending on her situation.
How would you like for her to handle those appointments? Does her time away count as a lunch break? Can she make up her hours, or does she need to take a sick day? Talking about this now can help make sure you're both aligned on expectations.
3. Have your employee document her projects and tasks.
After you've talked through the details of the plan and discussed expectations, it's time to get a feel for what she's doing and what needs to be managed while she's away.
To get an idea of what she's working on, you can ask her to start documenting her responsibilities. This can be done by simply documenting her tasks in a given day. Or you might ask her to capture her activities for a week or create a project status report that she updates frequently.
The goal is for you to be able to identify the tasks she's working on.
4. Assign a backup.
Once you know what she's working on, you can determine which tasks need to be assigned to another member of the team, which can be put on hold until she gets back and which can be outsourced temporarily.
For the tasks that cannot wait until she returns from maternity leave, consider assigning a backup. The backup could either be a member of your current team or someone you hire to fill the gap while she's away, such as a freelancer or temporary employee.
There are a variety of websites and agencies you can turn to for help finding a freelancer. Just make sure you are clear on the necessary skill set and your expectations before you reach out. This can help you find the right fit.
5. Create a transition plan.
From there, you can take the information you've collected and create—or have her create—a 30-, 60- or 90-day transition plan. (You can give yourself two to four weeks from her due date to account for the transition.)
The length of the plan may vary based on your business model and how far in advance she's able to plan. Just make sure to include details on all the projects that she's actively working on, an overview of the task or project she's overseeing and who's accountable for the task while she's away.
In addition, make sure the plan accounts for cases where she needs to leave earlier than expected (i.e., early birth, emergency, etc.).
Also be sure to talk with her about her transition back from maternity leave. Some companies give employees a few weeks as a flex period to allow new parents to ease back into work and find a cadence that works for them and their family. Is that something you're offering? If so, you can document it in your plan.
Pregnancy can be unpredictable. Therefore, try to keep in mind that this plan is a living document you can update as needed.
6. Update your team.
Once you've agreed on the terms of the plan, update your team. Tell them about the timeline for her absence (i.e., Amber will be out of the office for three months from October through December) and notify all backups. Where training is required, have the two (the employee and her backup) provide you with a date by which training will occur.
For the tasks that cannot be completed by an internal team member, consider hiring a freelancer or a temporary employee. You can do this by conducting an independent search, hiring an agency or using a tool like Upwork or Toptal.
Consider having that individual start 15 to 30 days prior to your employee's last day so she can assist with training.
7. Conduct regular check-ins.
Once the plan is in place and backups are assigned, you can schedule regular check-in meetings to review the tasks, make updates as needed and discuss baby names.
Babies are amazing. Taking some time to plan ahead can help ensure you, your team and the new momma can enjoy every moment.
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