Although this should be nothing but a joyous time, a close friend of mine is due to go on her maternity leave any day and instead of worrying about the mountain of preparation needed for the new arrival, her thoughts are primarily on the job she is leaving behind.
There’s no doubt that stepping out of your job for months can be stressful, no matter how happy the occasion. How can you be sure that you’ve prepared those around you for your absence? How you set things up so that you don’t return to find all of your careful organisation in a mess? How do you find someone to replace you?
These are more than just abstract issues: the average woman takes six months maternity leave according to a recent study by Netmums. There are few professions where it would be possible to take that much time off without having someone cover for you, but for PA, EAs, and business support staff it’s pretty much impossible.
So, what should you do to prepare?
Develop a game plan
If you’re like many PAs and EAs, you’ve become finely attuned to your bosses’ habits, behaviours and ways of doing things. However, you probably don’t have this information written out in a way that will be immediately useful to someone trying to cover for you.
Step one in preparing for maternity leave is to not only write out all of your core responsibilities and regularly tasks but also to provide more detailed information on how to work with the person (or persons) you support.
During this stage, think about whether it’s best for all of your responsibilities to pass directly over to a temp, or whether there are any aspects of your role that might be better passed to an existing colleague. Some people find that while many aspects of their job can easily be passed on, there are some sensitive areas that are not so suitable. The key is to plan in advance.
Talk things through with your boss
You will, of course, be eager to share your news with your colleagues. Try, however, to talk to your boss first before sharing more widely. News travels fast, and since you’ll want your boss to be onside, it’s best not to surprise them!
Make it immediately clear when you first talk to your boss that you’re planning on coming back to work and that you plan on taking six, nine, or however many months off work. Make it clear to your boss that while you’re going to be away for some time, you’re committed to your organisation, and you genuinely want to make your maternity leave successful.
Having your boss on-side will make the rest of the process much easier and as stress-free as possible.
Help to choose your cover
Fortunately, and as long as the relationship is right, lots of PAs and EAs are lucky enough to be involved in the process of finding a suitable candidate to cover their maternity break. Here is where you’ll be glad you spent some time writing a detailed and accessible handover.
If you can, try to be involved in the interview process and/or in the conversations with the recruitment consultant filling your position. If you’re handing over to someone internal to your organisation try to arrange a few meetings with them in advance, rather than just leaving them with your notes.
Now, my friend was one of the lucky ones and handpicked the bright whippersnapper that will hold the batten in her absence. Actually, she has done such a sterling job of finding the right temp, that she is starting to worry that this temp may actually be too good…
Stay in touch
Many new parents find that although they likely haven’t slept properly for what feels like months and have lost the concept of days/time, somewhere, in the periphery of their mind, work still nags.
However, it’s common and normal, as the weeks and months pass, for this to become less and less so. Keeping in touch, however briefly, during your time off can actually enable you to keep somewhat of a grasp of what is happening in your absence and will most certainly soften the blow when your inevitable return date comes looming.
Try to keep in touch with your boss via an occasional email, and with other colleagues in ways that feel most appropriate to you, such as a coffee meeting or chat on the phone. Keeping in touch with your work-life, even in limited ways, is important.
Things to remember
- Decide in advance how long you’re going to take off (there are details of the parental leave entitlement here — remember that since 2015 you’ve been able to share leave with your partner).
- Make sure that you’re the first to tell your boss — work on the basis that as soon as one person knows, everyone will soon know.
- Relax — you’ll be focused on looking after your new born and your colleagues will be doing their best in your absence. If you’ve prepared for your time off, the you’ve earned the right to relax a little.
- Assume that people will be enthusiastic about taking on your responsibilities. Set out clearly what’s important and select which colleagues are best suited to handling what.
- Consider your plan to be absolutely set in stone. See how things go and be prepared to change.
- Disappear altogether — of course, you’re perfectly entitled to disconnect completely. You’ll find it easier to transition back into work later if you keep in touch with your colleagues while you’re away.
Keep your eyes peeled for part 2. How to prepare for going back to work post-mat leave.
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