Manage your career during family leave transition

Dear Joan:

I work in the Government sector, specifically in city management. It would be interesting to see articles related to maternity leave for women and men. Perhaps information on preparing your boss/subordinates for impending leave; returning from leave and getting back into the game; etc.

I'm currently preparing to go out on maternity leave and I feel as though I am being left out of any discussions regarding reorganizations or procedural changes, which are occurring right now and will continue to occur while I'm out on leave.

 

We have a new city administrator who came on board in November, during my third trimester, and I feel as though my value has been overshadowed by my apparent condition and my plan for being out for 12 weeks. Up to my 7th month of pregnancy, I have always put in 50+ hours a week; and have been seen by upper management as the go-to person for special projects in addition to my regular day-to-day project management and policy research responsibilities. However, I haven't had much exposure to the new administrator for her to know all that I do or have done in my current position, or what my potential is for future projects.

 

How can I ensure that the new administrator, in addition to my direct supervisor, realizes my value to the organization and doesn't just write me off as a new mom who won't be up to the challenge of taking on new tasks under her new reign of leadership?

 

Answer:

When I was pregnant with my first child in the 70’s, I was asked to resign when I “started to show.” Sounds pretty old fashioned by today’s standards, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, a working pregnant woman still evokes some deeply felt emotions from those who interact with her.

 

Some women never do return to work, and some return, but not with the same career ambitions. Of course, others come back just as focused and ambitious as when they left. So it’s likely the managers above you are simply waiting to see what impact your new baby will have on you.

 

Since your tummy is the first thing people see, it often blocks out their otherwise neutral, professional reaction to you. Now, instead of seeing a colleague who does more than her share and performs well, they see a mom, who may not come back once the baby is born, regardless of what she says beforehand.

 

As a result, it’s important to continue to perform well during your pregnancy. In addition, since you sense that you are being cut out of the action because of your condition, refrain from excessive baby talk, which will only confirm any suspicions that you will either not return at all, or lose your drive to perform at a high level.

 

Have a meeting with your manager and reconfirm that you are returning to work and that you are concerned that you are not being included in decisions that could have an impact on you when you return. Tell your manager that you fear you may lose ground upon your return, since the new administrator doesn’t know your work history or performance capability. Ask for your boss’s advice on how to remedy this.

 

If you haven’t set a plan in motion for the transition of your responsibilities and what you will be working on during or after you return, you should do so now. If there is an opportunity for you to stay connected (once a week conference call, or a go-to person if your replacement has a question on a project, for example) you may want to plan for this in advance. (However, most moms have their hands full and want to spend as much precious time with their babies as possible during maternity leave, so I don’t think staying involved is necessary to protect your job standing.)

 

One thing you can do is to document your maternity leave/return plan and send copies to both your manager and the administrator. This will show both of them that you see your leave as a temporary departure and you fully expect to return to your former productivity. Include details about project hand-offs, your availability, your future plans upon your return and any other details that signal your dependability and professionalism.

 

In the end, there may be nothing you can do to alter other’s perceptions about your current condition—and other’s projections about your priorities in twelve weeks. The only thing you can do is to revel in the joy a new baby brings to your life and not worry too much about what is happening back at the office. When you return, the proof will be in your performance.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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