Your staff is a well-oiled machine–exceeding targets and meeting deadlines–with smiles on their faces and more enthusiasm than a cat chasing a mole. This is your dream team and life is good. And, then, it happens. The star of your brigade, the glue that keeps it all together, announces that she is four months pregnant and that, in less than five months, she will be abandoning you for maternity leave.
You may be tempted to shriek, throw yourself on the concrete at her feet, and beg her to stay–but you must resist. Rather than break into an undignified display of unbridled horror, you need to take a few deep breaths and consider a few cold, hard realities. Women have babies all the time. They are entitled to maternity leave. And, you and your team will survive. Here’s how.
1. Squeal with delight not fright
Although this impending maternity leave may be catastrophic in your eyes, it is an exciting time in the life of your employee. She is likely thrilled with her good news and “raining on her parade” will not only make you look like a self-absorbed jerk in the eyes of your other employees, but it may also alienate the expectant mom. Keep in mind that you do want her to return.
Instead, let her know you are happy for her. Show some enthusiasm for this new chapter in her life. And, most importantly, tell her that you want to make the whole process as easy and stress-free for her as possible.
2. Develop a plan
While your employee’s long-term plans may change–some mothers come back early and some never return at all–it is important to find out what her plans are as of that moment. An expected return date–even a tentative one–will, at the very least, give you something to work with.
Consulting with the expectant mom regarding her temporary replacement can be very helpful too. She will want to ensure that her replacement can keep on top of her job and not leave her a huge mess to clean up upon her return. She may be able to provide you with the name of an ideal candidate or give you insight into whether or not a current staff member may be able to fill her shoes.
3. Fill the position
Many companies make the mistake of not filling the gap left by a maternity leave. Instead, other employees–many of whom already have huge workloads–are expected to adopt more duties. It may save the company money, but it can have a devastating effect on those left behind.
For one thing, overworked employees make mistakes and miss deadlines–all things that can be extremely detrimental to your business. Plus, stressed out employees who are forced to take on extra duties for little or no extra pay become disgruntled workers. And the last thing you need right now is to lose anyone else from your team.
Whether you hire a temporary person from the outside or move someone into the position from within, the fact is that you need to fill the vacancy with a capable individual who can dedicate their full attention to that job.
4. Keep the lines of communication open
It is important to keep your employees in the loop-even the one that is on maternity leave. Call her to see how she and the baby are doing. Ask to see photos. Let her know that she is still a valued part of the team and that she will be welcomed back with open arms.
Losing a key player to maternity leave does not have to mark the end of your first-string team. Celebrate your employee’s happy news, develop a plan, fill the position, and strive to make the return of your crew’s newest mother a smooth one. So pick yourself up off the ground, brush the dirt from your knees, and, for Heaven’s sake, stop screaming.
What steps do you and your staff take to handle maternity leaves?