We can all somewhat relate to what it’s like preparing for a weeklong vacation from your job: Inform everyone you’ll be out. Delegate future tasks to ensure they don’t slip through the cracks. Tie up any project loose ends. Set your OOO notification… and yabba dabba doo.
Now imagine doing that in anticipation of a 12-week absence, the current average maternity leave under the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act. To make things more interesting, imagine you’re the president or even the owner!
Suddenly, those generalized preparations that serve as nice patches in the workday fabric become more like widely-distributed stepping stones in a raging river.
When not being experts in all things digital media, Brand Labs seems to be becoming experts in how to successfully manage not only leaving but returning from a maternity leave. And they would know. As the co-presidents of the company, each has been recently introduced to motherhood, while at the same time still managing to maintain the Brand Labs mission, strategy and operations.
Preparing for Maternity Leave
Interestingly, preparing for maternity leave is less task based and more strategy based.
Michelle Pittell, who commands the operational and financial management side of the business, has developed a sort of touchstone for everything from making time for much-needed rest to constructing guardrails that ensured she wasn’t “inserting herself into things I otherwise wouldn’t.”
According to Michelle, the Karl Sakas-inspired Stress Test is perhaps the most impactful step she took in preparing herself and Brand Labs for her extended leave.
“Maternity leave was the first time that I really checked out from work,” she explained. “I needed some test runs to build my comfort with not trying to insert myself into things where I normally wouldn’t. The stress test allowed us to see any gaps, and subsequently remedy, prior to my extended leave.
Also knowing that things have a place and time helps prioritize things and mitigates problems when a ball is dropped somewhere.
“By the time I went on leave, I was already comfortable with letting go of control,” said Michelle.
See the Entire Board
Look at everything needing to be delegated. Every task done during a day/week/month should be assigned a status. Set to waiting, pending or remove it from your task list all together.
Document. Document. Document
If you’ve been with the company awhile or have a unique role, take the opportunity to document anything you do that might be out of the ordinary so others can easily manage. This allows them to help themselves, ultimately making the return from an extended absence easier while alleviating any stress during it.
When a good portion of a pregnancy challenges the mother with fatigue, nausea and discomfort, having a supportive and understanding team/company goes a long way. In fact, sometimes it’s best to let you define the schedule, not the other way around.
“I was sick throughout my entire pregnancy,” said Michelle. “Between being ill and feeling exhausted – hello post lunch nap – I had to stop putting the pressure on myself to make 9 to 5 work. I had to let go of the time of day. Rather, I let my team know when I was working. Sometimes that might start at 4 a.m. or later in the evening.”
The important thing is that the work gets done but not forcing productivity that couldn’t happen when you might be physically operating at less than 100-percent.
Pregnancy is wild, and control is an illusion in pregnancy, labor or postpartum. Everyone is doing the best they can with the colossal shifts to every aspect of their lives – and your co-workers are likely giving insight into only about 20% of what they are actually going through!
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you return:
- Respect the hormones. Leave space for all of the feelings
- Ease back into work. It can feel traumatic going back to work, so take it slow while assuring your team you are available for needs, but also making sure that you step back into your role and hours at a pace that will allow you to not overdo it.
- You will have new priorities. Having a child completely changes the way you look at time. Every minute feels precious and fleeting. Remember, do good work, be proud and enjoy your life outside of work. This means checking out to be present with family when the work is done for the day and allowing others to do the same.
- It might take practice “being at work” again. You’ll likely be used to talking to a 10-week-old so don’t despair if speaking in full sentences feels alien. Also, “mom brain” is real! Take lots of notes, because sometimes it can feel like you’ve got less bandwidth.
Maternity-paternity leave is not as common as it should be, and can be a huge stress for many. Ask your employer about improvements to your policy if you have concerns – You are likely not alone in your thoughts. Don’t be afraid to make this an interview question. In all reality, the costs of supporting your employees with a caring policy will cost a business less and go so much further than the short gain of withholding.
Prioritize your well-being, and bond with your family. Though your career might be your passion, providing for you and your family, remember that it’s “work to live, not live to work.”
When you fill your own cup, you have something to pour into others.