No conversation at work produces more anxiety than telling your boss you're pregnant. Even quitting may feel like it would be easier news to break! Since nerves make it tough to keep even important details in mind, here are 5 tips to help you break the news.
Privacy is elusive these days. Many of us are connected to our colleagues and managers on social media platforms and socialize outside of the office with co-workers. However, don't be like the woman we heard about this summer who phoned in sick and then posted Instagram photos of herself on the beach! We live in a digital world, and secrets are hard to keep (read: don't post a snap of your positive pregnancy test on Facebook).
While you're understandably distracted by the excitement and nerves that come with bringing a new little life into the world, controlling your message is very important. After all, you may understandably fear that your boss or colleagues will treat you differently — and not in a good way — after your news.
That's all the more reason to deliver the news to your boss, yourself. You want to see their immediate reaction because it will tell you a lot about his/her attitude towards working moms, your ability to negotiate maternity leave and any other things you may be interested in (e.g. a different work-schedule or flexibility options).
One possible exception is if you believe your boss will negatively and you also have a trusted HR confidante who you believe will better support you. In this case, you might want to tell them before your boss and ask for advice about how to handle what you anticipate to be a difficult conversation.
Most women tell their employer that they're pregnant sometime around the end of their first trimester or in the early part of their second trimester. That's partly because the risk of miscarriages is significantly reduced. This timing also corresponds with when many women start to "show". However, sometimes your doctor or pregnancy symptoms such as severe morning sickness in early pregnancy may leave you with less flexibility and choice about when to share the news.
That said, if you do have an important deal, project or performance review, you may want to consider telling your manager afterward if you're worried about how they will take the news. Just be careful about waiting too long or giving away tell-tale signs such as inquiring openly about your company's maternity leave policy -—unless you're comfortable with a little office speculation and gossip!
It never hurts to do your homework about both your company's maternity leave policy, and your basic maternity leave rights. You don't have to become an expert, but we believe it's helpful to be familiar with the basics. You will feel much more confident if you walk into this sensitive conversation with some knowledge under your belt.
In addition to federal protections for pregnant employees against pregnancy discrimination, be sure to learn about your extra special rights if you're an employee in California, Rhode Island or New Jersey. If you have already decided that you will not be returning after maternity leave, or that you plan on negotiating a different work schedule during your post-maternity-leave return, having a clear understanding of your rights and company policies is even more important.
This meeting is the first time you'll be telling your boss you're pregnant, but it's certainly not the last time you'll be talking. In this initial conversation, tell your boss that you will share a plan about your maternity leave (if any) later, and try to defer committing to details about dates and other logistics. This gives you more time and space to consider these important decisions.
Also, while you may have an impulse to show you're being responsible and thoughtful, there is actually no need to discuss your projects or workload during this first conversation. We understand the urge to assure others of your commitment to your job, but we think it's premature at this stage.
Generally speaking, we believe communication during your pregnancy and maternity leave are very important and potentially involve more details and planning than you might imagine. Therefore, we've put together a very thorough checklist that should help you manage all the big and little things related to your pregnancy over the next several months.
On the flip-side, while your news makes you ecstatic, this is probably not the best time to get overly emotional. Of course, it's perfectly fine to convey your happiness, but we have witnessed a number of people who cross the line when it comes to "over-sharing" about physical discomforts or provide too many details about their difficulties conceiving. While you may have an unusually close relationship with your manager, remember that you are still at work. And it is never a bad thing to err on the side of professionalism.
Finally, we hope it goes without saying that you should tell your manager the news, face-to-face. You want to gauge their immediate reaction which is much more difficult to do, even on the phone. We are also big believers in documentation, so after your conversation, be sure to send a follow-up email thanking them for the meeting and for their support of your news.
We know its easier said than done. Working moms everywhere worry about being judged as uncommitted to their careers, or being taken less seriously on the "mommy track". These perceptions play out in subtle ways and while they are real, you should hold your head up high.
First, those biases are largely out of your control so you should try not to waste too much energy worrying about them. Second, you should aspire to communicate confidence about the upcoming change in your life regardless of how uncertain you may actually feel.
It will help you if you talk to other working parents around you. They can share their experiences and you will probably hear about the way "mom skills" can be assets in the workplace. Everything from time management to people skills can improve after motherhood — which tests even the most competent professionals in areas like resource allocation and patience!
The best way to deliver the news is to schedule a one-on-one meeting. (If you're concerned that your boss might not handle the news well, consider asking an HR representative to attend as well.)
Schedule the meeting for a time that's convenient for both you and your manager, and then gather then plans and information you'll need to for the conversation. For example, you should prepare a plan for the projects you expect to complete and who will take over your day-to-day responsibilities and incomplete projects. You should also let her know when you expect to go on maternity leave and when you plan on returning, as well as establish whether—and how—you'll keep in touch while you're gone.
Having a detailed plan for your absence will make your boss feel more at ease. After all, this is a transition for her, too! Plus, putting it in writing makes it more official—and if you encounter any difficulties, you'll have a paper trail.
There are, of course, points you should discuss together. The important part is that you have a plan laid out in advance. You might even draft a report or outline so your manager knows you're thorough and prepared.
The best way to have this conversation is in person. However, if you work from home most or all of the time, you may not be able to share your news face to face. In that case, it's best to have it over the phone. As you would with an in-person meeting, schedule a time to video conference or have a phone call, and discuss your pregnancy as you would in person.
If your boss works from home and you don't, in general, you'll probably share the news of your pregnancy via phone or video conference as well. If she does come into the office from time to time, you might seize one of these opportunities to have the conversation with her then. Still, make sure she has the time and is in the right mindset. If she's in the office because of a work emergency, that's probably not the right time to tell her you're pregnant; she probably won't be in the best mood or have the time to discuss it with you.
So, how exactly do you deliver your pregnancy news to your boss?
While there's no exact rulebook for how to handle the conversation, and you know your relationship with your manager better than anyone, here are some sample conversation starters:
"I'm delighted to share that I'm pregnant. I'm due on [date] and expect to go on maternity leave on [date]. I've put together a plan for the work I expect to complete before then and who will handle my projects in my absence, and I look forward to working with you on the details."
"I wanted to let you know that I'm pregnant. I'm due on [date] and expect to return after my maternity leave [if you know the company's maternity leave policy, include the return date]. I know you might be concerned about [e.g. a project or responsibility], and I've created a plan to account for that. We can go over it now."
"I wanted to share the news that I'm pregnant. I don't expect this to affect my work until my maternity leave, which will likely be [date]. I fully plan on returning to work after my maternity leave, and I look forward to working with you during the transition period."
Do you have any tips or stories that might help others break the news at work about being pregnant? If so, share your advice and opinions with other women in our community.
Fairygodboss is committed to improving the workplace and lives of women.
Join us by reviewing your employer!