Today marks the start of my maternity leave from work. At one stage it felt months and months away, and then in the blink of an eye the weeks flew by and I was finally waving goodbye to the office and the city. After already having experienced maternity leave once previously, I feel like I have the gift of hindsight and experience on my side and so have been feeling relatively relaxed about taking another extended period of time out of the office and my career again. Having learnt quite a few lessons the first time round about what worked well and what I would, and therefore have done differently, I thought I’d share my 8 steps to maternity success.
Keep Your Timelines Flexible
Legally your employer can’t ask you to confirm or even indicate how long you plan to take out on maternity. But in practice managers and even colleagues may end up asking you how long you plan to take out. It’s up to you whether or not you share your plans around how long you want to take maternity leave for, but if you do, try to leave it relatively open and flexible. So share the range of time you think you may possibly be out for rather than a specific amount of time, for example; 10-12 months. That way you give yourself some flexibility if things change, or if you change your mind part way through maternity leave and neither you or your employer will feel like you’re changing or moving the goalposts based on earlier conversations.
Decide How Much Contact You Do or Dont Want
It’s good practice for employers to follow the employees lead around how much contact they want whilst they are out on maternity leave. Some employers will have this written into their HR policies and maternity guidelines, whereas others may leave it down to individuals and their managers to agree. Either way, it’s useful both for yourself and your employer if you initiate and guide the conversation around how much or how little contact you’d like with your manager, your team and the organisation. Some people choose to have little to no contact until the three months before they have to indicate their intention to return to work, whereas others may choose to periodically check in with their manager and/or attend key team events or meetings. It’s really useful therefore to have a conversation around how much or how little you’d like to keep in touch so that you can set really clear boundaries before you leave.
Ask For Maternity Coaching
Lots of employers now offer maternity coaching for expectant parents, parents that are adopting and even dads taking shared parental leave. These sessions can be really useful, particularly the first time around when you may be feeling anxious about leaving the workplace for an extended period of time and are not sure what to expect. Maternity coaching can hugely vary in terms of what you may be offered depending on your organisation and whether they deliver this themselves or outsource to specialists, and what type of package they offer. For example, during my first maternity leave with a previous employer I was offered a couple of group maternity coaching sessions with other women from my organisation who were going on maternity leave at a similar time. This time round with my current employer I have had access to one on one coaching sessions which are tailored to my individual needs. Both are great and are definitely useful for helping you talk and think through how to manage your transition out and potentially back in to the organisation.
Have a Performance Conversation With Your Manager
One of the most important and best things you can do before you head off on maternity leave is to have a performance conversation with your manager. Depending on how structured performance management is in your organisation you may find that this naturally happens. But if it doesn’t, it is worth arranging to have one with your manager. Whilst it may be the last thing on your mind before you head out its worthwhile both for you and the organisation, to document what you have done and delivered during the portion of the year that you have worked. That way, when it comes to your return into the organisation it will serve as a useful reminder, particularly if during that time your manager has changed or a new opportunity has come up that you or your manager want to explore.
Connect With Your Key Stakeholders
Similar to the way that its important to have a conversation with your manager before you start maternity leave, its prudent to do the same with any key stakeholders that you have. If it is likely that you’ll return to your organisation after maternity leave, you want to make sure you position yourself for all eventualities. Organisations can change and move on very quickly. Departments can restructure, managers can leave, teams can change, and the world that you come back to could look very different to the one you left. With that in mind you want to make sure that you give yourself the best range of opportunities to consider on your return and this is where your stakeholders can come in very useful, particularly if they are influential. So it makes sense to have a conversation with them before you leave to remind them that you will be out of the business for a while but will be returning. What you want to achieve from this conversation is to make sure that they don’t forget you whilst your out, think of you if any opportunities come up and can be called on if you need other options to consider when you are getting ready to return.
Find A Work Buddy To Keep You in The Loop
Theres always one person in your team or organisation that you naturally click with, and soon you become unofficial designated tea or coffee break buddies. That person that you vent to or let off steam when you’re having a particularly stressful or busy day at work. The person that you could be, or are actually friends with outside of work. These are great people to keep in touch with whilst you’re out on maternity leave. Get their personal contact details before you leave if you don’t have them already and keep in touch with them with the occasional text here and there. They are your eyes and your ears whilst you’re out and can keep you up to date with anything significant that is going on in your team or organisation so that you are not caught by surprise when you return, and can give you a heads up on any opportunities that come up whilst you’re out that you might want to be aware of.
One of the nicest things to do in preparation for heading out on maternity leave is to arrange to have tea or coffee with people who are in your team, or people who you have worked with and really enjoyed working with. It’s a nice way to connect with your more informal network before you leave. Again, you never know what changes are going to happen whilst you’re out and these are likely to be the people who will remember and recommend you if an opportunity comes up whilst you’re out or think of you if they move on.
Get Familiar With Keep In Touch (KIT) Days
As part of maternity leave you may be entitled to 10 paid Keep In Touch, or KIT days from your employer. These are optional and can be used at any time during your maternity leave, but it often makes sense to use these towards the end once SMP kicks in or stops to give your salary a nice little boost. You can use them however, whenever and for whatever you want, although its usually a good idea to agree upfront with your employer how you might want to use them. For example to join team away days or to meet with your manager and key stakeholders before you return to work, although its equally fine to use them throughout maternity leave if you want to keep in touch with your team throughout your maternity leave.