When I was first asked to create a comprehensive schedule for my upcoming maternity leave, I was very confused. Doesn’t FMLA just start when my baby is born, and then I come back to work 12 weeks later? Not so much. There are actually quite a few decisions to make about preferred duration of parental leave, compensation options, delegation of work, etc. After chatting with a few co-workers returning from and preparing for parental leave, I decided to share some tips in hopes that future moms and dads are prepared to sign off smoothly and return to work with no surprises! Here are ten things to keep in mind:
- Determine whether you qualify for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) coverage.
FMLA entitles you to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a new child, health issue, or loved one’s health issue. Your employer’s parental leave policy may offer some portion of the 12 weeks with pay. You will qualify for FMLA if: (1) your employer has at least 50 employees, (2) you have worked for your employer at least 12 months, and (3) you worked at least 1,250 hours across the previous 12 months. Important note: FMLA leave runs concurrently with paid parental leave, PTO, short-term disability insurance, etc. The key protection given by FMLA is that your employer will hold your job for you. If you do not qualify for FMLA, your employer may still allow you to take 12 weeks off but they are not legally required to hold your job.
- Understand all the nitty gritty details of your employer’s parental leave policy.
Your employer’s policy determines how much paid parental leave you get, as well as protocol for your return. I was happy to learn that, based on my employment status, Hanover’s policy offered me six weeks of paid maternity leave to recover and bond with my baby girl. Of course, policies can differ based on tenure with the firm, part-time vs. full-time vs. independent status, maternity vs. paternity, etc. And some policies require you to pay back a portion (or all) of your parental leave compensation if you decide not to return to work.
- Explore compensation options.
You may be able to boost your paycheck during parental leave by using short-term disability insurance and/or PTO. Hanover offers a generous 18 to 28 days of PTO each year, depending on employee tenure, so I made sure to save up several weeks of vacation time to supplement my six weeks of paid maternity leave. As a single-income family, this made the transition much easier financially. If you have extra money in your savings account, though, you may prefer using unpaid FMLA (if you are eligible) in order to reserve as much PTO as possible for the inevitable doctor visits and sick days that will present themselves in the months ahead. Not to mention the fun family time you will want to plan with your new kiddo!
- Consider breaking up paternal leave.
One Hanover dad shared that, if he had it to do over again, he would have scheduled his first week of paid paternal leave upon baby’s arrival and waited to use the second week later. In the beginning, family and friends tend to be very involved. There is a lot of activity, excitement, and adrenaline. Then… after about a month, when the initial excitement has gone down, mom might be starting to feel exhausted, lonely, or just plain bored. This is a great window of time for dad to swoop in with some quality time and baby duty support.
- Prepare to enroll your newborn for health insurance.
Review company policies and confirm with HR how to do this as early as possible. It is critical that you enroll your little cutie within 30 days of his or her birth, so make sure to mark your calendar!
- Create a bucket list of everything you want to accomplish before your parental leave begins.
Of course you will be coming back, but it’s so nice to find a clean slate rather than a huge mess! Be especially protective of your time during this season, and don’t allow yourself to get distracted from the most critical things you want to accomplish before the big day.
- Progressively delegate responsibilities.
Don’t wait until you are gone to begin delegating clients, projects, management responsibilities, etc. Allow your temporary replacement(s) to shadow your activities and BCC them on relevant emails. Create a shared OneNote or Evernote binder, Outlook calendar, and/or Google spreadsheet with all the information she will need to reference in your absence. Introduce your direct reports and/or clients to the person they will work with while you are gone.
- Finish out every work day as if it will be your last.
Set up an auto reply so that all you need to do is turn it on. Draft “This is It!” emails to send your supervisor, teammates, clients, etc., and just click send before heading to the hospital in a hurry. Also, don’t let a day go by without sending relevant updates before clocking out. I certainly made the mistake of thinking “I’ll do it in the morning” just hours before our midnight trip to the maternity ward. Ooops, sorry team!
- Create a plan for your return.
Work with your supervisor to tentatively decide how long you will be out of the office. Keep in mind that complications may necessitate longer time off and smooth sailing may encourage you to head back to work sooner than planned. Discuss any transitional arrangements that may be available to you, such as temporary part-time or remote work. If you telecommute, plan to check all your technology to make sure it works before you log in for your first day back and request support from IT in advance.
- Keep tabs on important announcements.
There are many ways to do this, but the goal is to avoid returning to a chaotic inbox that causes you to miss critical information. My strategy involved cleaning out my inbox every week or two, leaving only the email threads I would want to read more closely after my return. I also Skyped with my teammates every few weeks to informally check in, swap interesting stories, and stave off maternity leave loneliness. Another option is to ask a colleague to keep a running list of important announcements and new resources to send along when you come back.
Does this sound like a lot of work? Well, it is. Choosing an employer where work-life balance is cultivated in a supportive environment can help to ensure the transition is manageable. Six weeks of paid maternity leave and two weeks of paid paternity leave are available to new parents at Hanover. Flexible working hours and generous PTO make the new normal sustainable. And as an added perk, on-site fitness equipment, yoga classes, and guided meditation make it easier to squeeze in time to take care of yourself – so you can take better care of your family and your clients!
For more information about careers available at Hanover Research, take a look at current openings in Research, Revenue, Strategy, and Operations.
- Natasha Kolar, Talent Development Manager – Learning and Development and new mom