What to expect when you’re expecting: professionals share their top tips on maternity leave
There really is no telling what to expect when you are expecting – but REBA’s professional members have you covered. During an informal virtual lunch and learn, practitioners from the reward, benefits and HR sector came together to discuss their experiences of going on maternity leave, and offer practical advice for those eagerly or nervously awaiting their last day in the office.
As one attendee pointed out: “The more we share our experiences of what’s been right for us, it might give someone else the comfort and confidence to say that’s okay for me too.”
Here are the four top tips pooled from this discussion:
1. Have planning conversations as early as possible
As soon as the discussion kicked off our attendees first piece of advice was “start having those handover conversations now”. She explained that not having a proper conversation with her employer about expectations meant that handovers were muddled, and the onus was put on her to discover and keep up to date with new skills.
“Start having chats now about what to do and what you’ll be expected to do when you get back, the clarity is important,” she said, adding that her situation was unique and unlikely to happen to everyone.
Additionally, not everything will go as you expect, as one delegate found out when her maternity cover unexpectedly left the business mid-way through her leave. “There has to be some acceptance that not everything will go to plan while you are off and the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can relax,” she advised, adding that she also had unrealistic expectations that she would finish outstanding tasks before she left. “Look at your to do list and accept things may not happen, don’t put pressure on yourself to complete them,” she said.
2. Discuss your role and be transparent with maternity cover
One delegate explained that she had enlisted the help of a maternity coach, who pushed her to have discussions early on with the business about what her role was going to look like. The coach told her to keep abreast of changes within her business and so when she returned she “felt informed”, which is something she admits she wouldn’t of considered otherwise.
“If I didn’t have the coach I wouldn’t of been thinking about what I wanted in such depth,” she said, adding that a coach will “also help you understand how much of your role your maternity cover will do and what tasks will essentially be abandoned when you get back”.
Another delegate shared that when she returned to work, she did not consider how much her maternity cover had stepped up, which made things confusing when she returned. “She stepped up to certain tasks and when I came back she basically had to step down again, and that was really hard for her,” she said.
Having conversations and proper handovers with your maternity cover will undoubtedly make the experience less confusing for both parties, as it will help to manage any subconscious stress. Everyone is different but ultimately, the last thing a new parent should be worrying about is outstanding tasks and a mountain of work that may need to be completed on their return.
3. Remember, you are in control of catch ups
Whether you want to be kept in the loop or have regular catch ups, it’s important to remember that you are in control of the date and frequency of this contact. Once the baby arrives you may find that what you initially planned is not sustainable, especially when factoring in sleep, feeding times and any other complications that may arise.
One delegate pointed out: “I scheduled all of my catch ups before I went off and then just cancelled what I knew I couldn’t do. Sometimes things don’t go as expected.” Another left the catch ups to others to schedule, but this didn’t go smoothly as nobody called her, which she described as “quite disheartening”, adding that “scheduling things on your terms is better because if you let other people do it and then they don’t schedule anything you feel like nobody cares”.
The discussion highlighted that everyone is different, as one attendee found it useful to be kept in the loop as it was “valuable” to learn how the business was moving forward, another soon discovered she wanted to be left alone during her leave.
“I thought I wanted to be kept in touch with every week, but as it turned out I wanted to be left alone for six months,” she confessed, adding that you can plan but you “won’t know until the time comes, you should be prepared to be here there and everywhere for a while”.
4. Don’t feel the need to announce it on LinkedIn
The topic of whether mothers should or should not advertise they are going on maternity leave across social media or their email out of office was a hotly debated issue. One mother said she didn’t disclose her maternity leave as she had a difficult time getting pregnant, while another said it would make her nervous.
“My initial reaction is I would be nervous of the judgement people face when going on maternity leave, or even taking a career break,” she said. “People do wonder what happens when you come back and if you will be as good as you were before you had a baby, or as focused, so I’m leaning towards not publicising it for those reasons. But everyone is different.”
For more information on how to facilitate an informal lunch and learn meeting, please get in touch with Jessica Feeney