You may be wondering what a maternity leave plan is. Simply put, it’s a document that includes what you will be doing before, during and after your maternity leave. It is not legally required and may not be something anyone at work tells you to do, but creating a maternity leave plan that you can share may be a smart career move.
Why You Need a Maternity Leave Plan
It may not be obvious why you need a plan, but if you consider the fact that you may be gone for a substantial amount of time from your employer, it makes sense to think about how to prepare your team, colleagues and employer for your departure and return from maternity leave.
For those of you lucky enough to work at an employer where extended leave is part of the policy, you may be away from work for several months. A plan can help you in the following ways:
1. Help You Organize Yourself
First and foremost, your maternity leave plan is for yourself. You should look at your due date and when that falls relative to your work projects and deadlines. Whatever you can anticipate now will save you stress and unnecessary anxiety, particularly if you have an earlier-than-expected birth.
When do you expect to start your leave? Who will cover for you, and how? How much do you plan on staying in touch with your team? These are the details to outline, and they are important for you to think through whether or not anyone asks you to share your plan.
2. Impress Your Managers and Colleagues
One of the reasons that a maternity leave plan can be so impressive is that not everyone will create one. By listing the information everyone could possibly want to know surrounding your departure and return, you’ve saved yourself a lot of awkward questions and provided a single point of reference for anyone interested in how you plan on staying in touch (if at all) and who will be covering for the various aspects of your job.
3. Provide a List of Tactical and Practical Information to Those Stepping in to Cover for You
Put yourself in your boss’ and co-workers’ shoes. If one of them were to leave the company for 8-12 weeks, what would you want to know? If someone needs to contact you for emergencies, how should they reach you? Will you plan on regular phone conversations if you’re a manager? Do you plan on delegating all your work in advance to others, and if there is more than one person covering for you, who is responsible for what issues? Consider this document a navigational tool for others in your absence.
4. Set Your Colleagues' and Boss’ Expectations
Many times, managers and colleagues feel awkward asking how much you plan on accomplishing before your leave, and even how long you plan on being away. This is because nobody wants to make open assumptions about how long your leave will be or put pressure on you to do more than you can.
One of the benefits of creating a plan is to set these expectations long before they become an issue.
Part 1 of Your Maternity Leave Plan: Before Your Departure
We suggest starting with your due date (and sharing it) in the document. To create the initial part of your maternity leave plan, plan on working backwards for roughly 2 months prior.
Set a schedule of what projects and tasks you plan on accomplishing before you leave. Don’t be shy about bragging about the achievements you plan on making during the period before you leave. This document is, in many ways, proof that you’re not leaving anyone in the lurch.
Part 2 of Your Maternity Leave Plan: The Time During Your Leave
Create a list of all your ongoing responsibilities that cannot be completed prior to your leave. If you have direct reports, assign them some portion of your tasks. Notify them, and set up a time to talk about their additional duties and then detail your mutual understanding in your maternity leave plan. Get your manager’s approval, if necessary, and then explain that this is a way for you to assess your direct reports’ ability to grow into new areas. This should be something they consider a career opportunity.
If there isn’t anyone who can cover for you, you may need to be explicit about that and ask for help from your manager or HR department with respect to hiring a temporary replacement. Your employer will appreciate that you were proactive in anticipating their needs rather than simply walking out and announcing that nobody is around who can do your job. If you give them time, they may be able to hire someone on a temporary or contract basis. You can even volunteer to help select that person by interviewing them and training them.
State how long you plan to take for maternity leave. We understand that feelings and situations may change. Premature births happen, as do situations where moms feel like they need to return to work early due to exceptional circumstances at work. But if you don’t state your expected duration, you’re creating unnecessary uncertainty. Plans are not written in stone, and they are there to help everyone understand your intentions.
Part of what you should anticipate is whether you will have to (or want to) do any work while you’re out on leave. If you’re a manager, you may want weekly email or phone check-ins with your team. Or maybe you want to keep in touch with your boss, but only after the first month you’re away or the two weeks before your return so you can catch up.
Be clear with everyone what you want in terms of contact and when you want to be contacted. Whatever you say is fine, but the clarity will be much appreciated.
Part 3 of Your Maternity Leave Plan: Your Return From Leave
If you plan on phasing back your return from work as opposed to coming back on a full schedule, you should negotiate that and present this as part of plan separately with your manager. You may want to start by coming back “early” but working part-time or remotely initially just to get back into the swing of things.
If you plan on asking for a different schedule after you have a baby, don’t try to sneak it into this document and simply hand this paper over to your boss. Have a conversation with your manager about that and make that the focal point of your discussion about your maternity leave plan.
Addressing how you will do your work under a new schedule and presenting it in terms of a business case and your employer’s point of view are important. Negotiating for more job flexibility when you return from maternity leave is something to do quite carefully in order to maximize your chances of success.
If you plan on working full-time but limiting or changing your travel plans upon your return, this is something to bring up before you take maternity leave. Also, you may want to think about whether you want to breastfeed, as this can require time during your day and impact your travel. It’s completely possible to travel and pump, but it requires some planning, and some employers even offer reimbursement or services that facilitate the shipping of breastmilk.
In sum, a maternity leave document is something you should present to your manager in order to help both yourself as well as as your boss and colleagues. Once approved, your plan (or a condensed version of it) should be shared with relevant colleagues and co-workers so that they know what you’re planning on doing before, during and after your return. While this isn’t a plan that’s written in stone, it will help you get organized and impress your coworkers.
This document may not make sense for everyone, but depending on your length of leave and type of job, it can help smooth the transition away from the office and provide tactical and logistical details that will make you and everyone else feel much better about your time away. Peace of mind during maternity leave is priceless, so it’s worth front-loading some thought and planning before your baby arrives!
More on Maternity Leave
Applying for new jobs and wondering which companies have the best maternity leave policies? Check out some of the best policies out there. Among them are Netflix and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, both of which allow new mothers to take 52 paid weeks off.
Only 12 percent of employees in the United States have paid maternity leave. That's because the US doesn't mandate that companies pay you while you take your maternity leave, but there are some companies that do so anyway. Here are 180 companies that offer the most paid leave.
Wondering what maternity leave looks like around the world? Here's a glimpse at how other countries support working mothers. Hint: Most countries offer much more paid leave.