Q: I just found out I’m pregnant, and I’ll need to start telling my colleagues and boss within the next six-to-eight-weeks. I’ve never been in this situation before. What is the best way to talk to my boss and co-workers? And also, what is a reasonable time to plan for my last day in the office? A week before my due date? Two weeks before? I’m obviously new to this and need your help!
First off, congratulations—what exciting news for you! And yes, I’m sure you do have a lot of questions. With the many and varied details to consider before the birth take a look at my tips below.
Speak to Human Resources
Once you’re ready to share the news of your pregnancy, I’d recommend speaking to someone in Human Resources as a first step. There will be a bunch of information including your benefits, when you are allowed to take time off, number of weeks of paid maternity leave, versus unpaid leave. Depending on the country, state and company, it can vary greatly. When I was working in London, the company I worked for was very good in supporting the needs of employees—they even had discrete sleep rooms dotted around the building for any pregnant employee to take short breaks throughout the day to recharge. Human Resources was in charge of giving this information.
Telling your Boss
Once you’ve had a chance to speak to Human Resources, then as a next step I’d speak to your direct managers and tell them about your pregnancy and plans for maternity leave. And as best you can, try to give them as much certainty about how long you plan to be out. Your manager will most likely want your input on who could do your job while you are away, do they need to hire someone, does this person need training, and if so, how long will the training take.
Lead Up to Maternity Leave
Discuss with HR and your boss about the times you’ll need to be out of the office for doctor’s visits and scans. Does someone need to cover for you while you are out for these appointments, if so who? Start planning if your job usually requires a lot of travel. After a certain point you will no longer be able to fly. If you need to fly to meet clients or attend important meetings, schedule this early on in your pregnancy.
Planning for the Last Day in the Office
Unless you’re planning a C-section, your due date is just an estimate. You may want to take a week of vacation before the baby arrives, but he/she could arrive early, so there is no guarantee of downtime before the baby arrives. First, check with HR and understand your benefits, paid leave vs. unpaid leave, etc. Some mothers I know like to work right up to the final moment so they can spend as much time at home with the baby as possible. Some colleagues have been put on full bed rest a month or two before birth, and they’ve been required to work from home. It’s good to have a plan, but also think of contingencies as the date of birth and your physical condition can change.
By talking to HR you’ll quickly learn how much maternity leave you are able to take. Many people also save their vacation days and add this to extend their length of maternity leave. Check to see if your company is OK with you doing this. Also, be clear about whether you want to be contacted while on maternity leave. Depending on your job, and level of seniority, you may be OK if the office calls, and you may want them to call you with updates and questions, or you may say no and prefer to be completely offline during your maternity leave. Some companies, for legal reasons, will turn off your Blackberry so it’s not possible to access work email. These are all things to think about and discuss with your family, boss, co-workers and Human Resources.
Your Return to the Office.
Try to be as clear as you can with your managers. The reality is, while you may have been committed to returning to work before the birth, some mothers change their mind and make the decision to stay at home once the baby arrives. And that’s perfectly OK and a great decision if it’s what you and your family want, but try to let your company know as soon as you can. They still have a business to run, and your co-workers may be covering for you. It’s good to let your boss and HR know as soon as possible if your plans change. That way they can also make decisions in finding a permanent replacement.
If you do decide to return to the office, then practical matters such as breast feeding and/or taking a breast pump to the office will need to be worked out. A number of years ago I worked in a regional office of a global company—because they’d never had someone return directly from maternity leave, they turned an office into a private room for her to breast feed and use the breast pump. But carpenters needed to be called, and this all took time and planning so it was ready for her return.
I hope these tips help. Finally, a big thanks to the working mothers I polled for additional tips in the writing of this blog post.
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