This is a topic I am particularly passionate about as a mum. The pregnancy journey is a cocktail of emotions and not knowing how to manage ones pregnancy and upcoming parental leave at work can add an extra layer of stress or worry.
The purpose of this blog is to give any mum-to-be some practical tips to help with managing the logistics associated with pregnancy at work and parental leave. By no means am I presenting an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts, this blog is more a well-intentioned guide coming from a mum who has ‘been there and adone that’.
During Pregnancy: The Ins and Outs
- Get yourself informed:
Knowledge is vital here. You need to know your company’s policies around parental leave, return to work and flexible work options. Read up on all the policies and don’t hesitate to contact your H.R department (if you have one) to ask questions (this can be an anonymous conversation if you are concerned). Knowing what your rights are is key! Beyond looking into your company’s policies, you may also want to check out some useful government websites (e.g., Supportive Working Parents www.supportingworkingparents.gov.au/) which are all about anti-discrimination, rights and parental leave. All very useful information to be familiar with.
- Informing your boss:
When is the right time to tell your boss you are pregnant? There is no right or wrong here. Some women may wait until they are showing a clear bump, while others are forced into informing their bosses early on, sometimes due to medical complications which requires them taking leave from work. If all is going well, you may want to wait until you have passed the 3 months mark. Whatever you choose do to, I recommend scoping out your organisations parental leave policy to know exactly when you are expected to apply for parental leave. This time frame may then help you work out when it is best to inform your boss.
- Negotiate the logistics around appointments:
Have an open and transparent conversation with your boss about the upcoming appointments you will be having. Get your bosses’ advice around the type of leave you are expected to use for such appointments or whether it is possible for you to make up for that time on other work days. It may also be possible for you to negotiate work schedules around early morning or late afternoon appointments. Whatever your plan, it is a good idea to keep your boss in the loop. A big part of this journey is about learning how to manage expectations and this feeds directly into that.
- Discuss how connected you want to be:
Talk with your boss and colleagues about how connected you want to remain to the company and work operations while you are on parental leave. What kind of expectation is there about you being available, even if that is just via email? Clarify this. Do you want to receive weekly/monthly team meeting updates? Even though there may not be an explicit expectation for you to be checking and responding to emails on leave, some women like to have the choice to log in and read about any updates if they choose to. Do you want to be able to attend some key meetings? Don’t assume that your boss will invite you unless you have indicated a desire to be involved. Also, you may want to consider scheduling a few visits to the office with your baby to help with feeling connected.
Returning to work: Sleep Deprivation and All!
- Be kind to yourself:
Realise that this is a huge phase of adjustment for you, not just in terms of becoming a mum (if this is your first baby especially), but also possibly adjusting to part-time work from a full-time pre baby workload. Recognise that during the time you were on leave things may have changed at your work. Sometimes even small changes, such as system tweaks, or new forms can throw a spanner in the works. There may also be subtle (or huge!) changes in the team environment/dynamics which you need to acquaint yourself with. Give yourself a ‘grace’ period where you are solely focussed on wrapping your head around work again (in the context of sleep deprivation, poor memory and poor attention), learning the ropes if things have changed and generally just getting back into the swing of things and not singing ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round’ all day. Be kind to yourself and don’t expect everything to go smoothly from week 1. If feasible, schedule meetings with all colleagues upon your return to catch up and reconnect with everyone individually.
- Set boundaries:
This is a tricky one as it requires operating in a bit of a grey area. If you know you need to leave work by a certain time to pick up your little one from day-care, you need to be able to recognise how much work you can commit to achieving by a certain time, or even whether you can say ‘yes’ to new work tasks for that day.This is purely dependant on the type of work you do but may need to learn how to push back slightly and say no, or negotiate a compromise for the work to be completed or done when you are next in the office.
- Number of days:
Whether you are returning to work 2 days, or 5 days, there is a huge adjustment at either end of the spectrum. Sometimes the number of days women choose to return to work is dictated by child-care days available other times it is a financial decision. If you are in a position where you can choose how many days you return, do yourself a favour and ease into it. Start with 2 days and work yourself up to 3 (if 3 is your aim), or start with 3 days and work yourself up to 4. This minimises the ‘shock’ value of returning to work and helps with easing new mums into decreasing the time they spend with their little ones (which is emotional in itself let’s not kid ourselves). Sometimes you will need to come to a compromise with your boss about the number of days you return as it may be determined by work demands.
- Part-time work is part-time work. Not full-time work:
This is a big one. I think a lot of mums fall into the trap of trying to maintain a pre -baby full-time workload in part-time hours. Not only is this unmanageable, but it is unsustainable, especially for a new mum who may still be waking multiple times a night to a crying baby. I think there is a lot of unspoken pressure and expectation for women to operate at the same productivity level that they were before they went on maternity leave. Some women also feel the need to ‘prove themselves’ as being ‘continuing to be’ valuable employees by working extra-hard to keep up. Sometimes this means taking work home, checking and responding to emails on days off, or coming into work just that little bit earlier to squeeze extra work in. I’m not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but I do want to caution women about how tiring and unstainable this can be.
- Inform your boss and get your paperwork sorted:
This links back to knowing what your company’s policies are. What forms are you required to submit prior to returning to work? Most companies will also require an ‘intention to return to work’ statement so be sure you know if this is a requirement and when you need to submit it. Don’t get flustered with the paperwork by leaving it to the last minute. Think about sorting it all out a good couple of months before your leave is due to end. Have a couple of check in phone conversations with your boss a good couple of months prior to your return to help you ease back into thinking about work and to learn about any new changes which may affect your role.
Enjoy this time!
With all the tips considered, take things one step at a time and focus on your health.
Above all, try and enjoy this wonderful journey!
If you are a mum-to-be and want some advice around your career, consider contacting Career Focus to discuss your unique career situation with a career psychologist.