Congratulations, you're having a baby! Whether this is your first child or third, each birth is special and requires much to plan for, both at home and at work. Perhaps your employer has detailed instructions about planning for your parental leave, but chances are they don't and it's up to you to plan for your absence while tending to baby.
Because in the world of pregnancy things don't always go exactly according to plan (to say the least!), it's best to start thinking about your parental leave sooner rather than later, prioritizing projects and determining which team members can manage specific tasks while you're gone. You may even need to consider bringing in interim support, such as a consultant or Chief of Staff, who can help keep things running while you're out. Whatever you decide, we recommend having a plan in place 4 weeks before your scheduled due date, just in case. If baby doesn’t come early, you can always continue to add capacity and value to your team until he or she makes an appearance.
Here is a roadmap you can use to get your started on your way to a parental leave that gives both you and your employer peace of mind:
Do your research. Your manager or human resources representative can help you navigate your organization’s parental leave benefits and resources. Make sure you’re clear on the details and rules for using any paid parental leave, unpaid family/medical leave, and sick or vacation time. Planning templates and sample leave plans from parents who have recently taken leave can also provide a great starting point.
Clarify and prioritize your work. First, think about the work you do, from the project level to day-to-day duties. Which of these activities can be put on the back burner while you're gone? Which ones are imperative to the business? Which would be nice to have done, but aren't essential? Work with your manager and/or other team members to make sure your priority lists sync to ensure you're on the same page with the organization. Determine which projects you anticipate you'll have done before you leave. Diagram your list of must-haves and nice-to-haves and think about time allocations required for each item on your list.
Assign. Work with your supervisor to make sure your essential projects and tasks are covered while you’re out. You know your work best and might have ideas on which of your team members can handle each responsibility, but it's also important that existing staff don't feel saddled with extra work that they don't have time to complete. Your manager and/or HR representative may oversee the process and assign existing staff to your projects, or they may choose to bring on additional help, but because you will likely be stepping back into the project lead when you return, you'll naturally be invested in who is taking over your work in your absence.
Provide detailed instructions. For those projects that are essential to the organization and must continue in your absence, leave detailed instructions in writing about how you do your work—as well as any resources your replacement will need to complete this work. This may include flow charts, written instructions, security passwords, access to specific documents, contact information for internal and external individuals who are helping with the project, timelines, upcoming deadlines, and/or calendar items, such as weekly meetings they will need to attend in your stead or deadline reminder alerts. Ask your stand-in to shadow you before you leave as you work on specific projects; this will help ensure you're capturing those duties that can be documented, as well as any unique knowledge you've developed that might otherwise go forgotten.
Establish lines of communication (to a point). Make sure everyone else in the organization—as well as key clients or customers—knows which individuals are covering which of your projects and responsibilities while you're gone. You'll also want to let others know when it may be okay for them to contact you at home. Maybe it's only in urgent situations. Maybe you'll have once-a-week check-ins to ensure things are flowing smoothly and questions are answered at regular times. Establish your boundaries for communication and make sure others know what those are. Is email the only way you'd like to be contacted or are quick text messages acceptable as well? You'll also want to check with your HR department to make sure these occasional continued communications are approved by the organization and don't overstep legal boundaries. Draft a clear out-of-office reply that tells people who to go to well ahead of time and store it in your drafts folder so you don't have to write it on your way to the birth center!
Plan your re-entry. Though your return is weeks or even months away, you'll want your transition back to work to be a smooth one. Think about ways for others to document a project's progress in your absence. You might create a shared file to record major milestones for a project, or employ the use of project management software or a task tracker to document when various tasks were completed. This will help your replacements stay accountable for the work they are doing for you, the project owner, and will help you jump back in and get up to speed quickly when you return. Give yourself a buffer upon your re-entry, too. Many returning parents work a part-time schedule for the first few weeks back or block off a week with no meetings to dig out. And be gentle with yourself whenever possible—you’ll be tired and extra busy!
A well-planned parental leave is a happy parental leave for you, your clients, and your employer. Knowing that your projects and assignments are set up for success will go a long way toward a stress-free leave, so you can concentrate on the important work of caring for your new baby. Enjoy your time!
About our guest blogger:
Kelly Harris Perin founded Little Bites Coaching to help leaders, builders and change-makers make an amazing impact with their work- and stay joyful and balanced along the way. Through group workshops and executive coaching with Kelly, clients prioritize the right work, create the conditions to get it done, and transform their work lives… bite by bite.