Depending on your line of work, you may have to tell more than just your boss and team about your pregnancy. For those of you in client-facing or outward-interfacing roles such as sales, public relations, medicine, and many many others, you may be just as concerned about when and how to tell your customers and clients as telling your boss.
It’s understandable. After all, your clients are important relationships that you’ve cultivated over time. You want these people to know that you are responsible and just as committed to delivering results once you are back from maternity leave. While many clients will probably not only be understanding but also happy for you there may of course be some customers who are less than pleased because they are only thinking about their own needs.
What can you do to break the news in the best way possible? Here are a few considerations:
Elizabeth Deninzon of Accenture told her clients around the same time that she told her manager and colleagues (at the 12-week mark). Certainly, many women we spoke to decided to treat their clients similarly to their colleagues in terms of disclosing their news.
For others, clients need more timing leeway for when to break the news since you’re not necessarily face-to-face in the office with them every day. Your morning sickness will be much easier to hide and if you mostly speak to your customers over the phone, in many cases, they don’t need to know until much later than colleagues that you interact with face-to-face on a daily basis.
What if you’re a freelancer or have a job where you work mostly directly with clients? If you don’t have anyone to turn your projects and deadlines over to, you’ve got to give yourself a longer window of notice if you want to do right by your clients. This can mean telling them when you would normally tell your manager, or it can mean telling them a bit later on when you’ve gotten a better sense of how your pregnancy is impacting you physically, or have a more detailed transition and coverage plan in mind.
How to share the news
For those that prefer a more personal approach, it’s never bad to choose to deliver news in-person or on the phone. The advantage of telling your client about your pregnancy and maternity leave this way is that you will be able to ascertain their reaction and respond immediately with assurances or any answers to questions they may have.
Just be sure that if you choose this approach that you’re either prepared to answer some of their logistical questions about the transition period -- or be comfortable telling them that you’ll soon be in touch with more information at a later time.
Erin Olilla is a writer who took a two-email approach to alerting her clients about her pregnancy. First, she advises that you send a quick email announcing your pregnancy to your client. This note should include assurances that you will be available until your maternity leave, and that a more detailed plan will subsequently follow with how you plan on meeting deadlines and deliverables.
Then, she suggests you send that follow-up message with more concrete bullet-points about how and when deadlines will be met, and any transition details your client will need to know.
What we don’t recommend is a mass email. The more personal the message seems, the more responsive and supportive your clients are likely to be.
The “Don’t Tell Them Directly” approach
Depending on whether you have primary responsibility for your clients and customers, you may not need to tell them your news at all. For example, you can simply let your colleague who does “own” the relationship to choose when and if to tell them.
You will be setting an auto-reply in your email and updated message in your voicemail. If you choose to start appending your leave details as a matter of courtesy in the month or so before your leave, that can never hurt. Something as simple as the following email footer can be all that’s needed:
*Note: I will be out on maternity leave at the end of October. During that time, you can contact my colleague XX for assistance.”
Sometimes not necessarily announcing your news is perfectly fine, especially if you’re the junior member on a team and there is plenty of collegial coverage for your role.
Rebecca Hourston, a maternity leave coach with Talking Talent, a coaching consultancy firm that specializes in maternity leave preparation and return for women says that “time and time again, I’ve found that great communication with key people is really the most important thing you can do to ensure a smooth transition to your leave.” This is true for both internally with your manager and fellow colleagues as well as your customers and clients.
Whatever your seniority or relationship with your client, make sure you think through what your plan for sharing the news will be! It will reflect well on you — and your team — if you are thoughtful and considerate of how and when you share your news.