If you’re like most managers, you probably feel responsibility for your team all the time. So, even if you’re about to take time off for your maternity leave, you might feel some lingering anxiety about how they’ll cope without you.
If you’re worried about your team’s workload or how they’ll cope while you’re on maternity, there are a few different ways women have told us they deal with it.
1. Add temporary, extra (wo)man power to the team.
Sometimes there’s no one person who can take over for you and you can’t give any more of your workload to anyone else. In these situations, you might need to hire someone who is a freelancer for a limited period of time.
Michelle Meyer was once regularly filling in for employees who went on extended maternity leave. She’s now launched a freelancer marketplace, Emissaries, which specializing in temporary placements to cover employees out on leave.
2. Find a replacement for yourself.
The advantage of making your No. 2 your No. 1 for a few months is that you don’t have to custom-delegate and worry about anything falling through the cracks. There’s simplicity in having one person take responsibility from you. However, some people are reluctant to try to find any single replacement for themselves because they feel threatened someone might take their job.
That feeling is natural, but Meyer says the fear is usually not grounded in the facts. She says:
Most freelancers want to stay freelance because they prefer the lifestyle. Thus, most aren't trying to take your job or climb the ladder. When you're interviewing freelancers, you can have a candid conversation about their near-term career goals. Once you hire someone, rather than imagining the fill-in is a threat to your job security, opt to learn from them instead.
You might also want to think about the issue from a more generous perspective. Your absence can help your direct reports grow and develop. One woman who worked at Estee Lauder told me that she felt really strongly about this topic because she believed that she got a lot of valuable exposure and experience in her early career when many women in middle-management had babies and went on leave.
“I got to take on much more senior level projects and assignments because people were out on leave — and it helped me move up the ranks faster," she said. "That’s why when it came to my turn, I used my leave as an opportunity for the people who worked below me.”
3. Delegate into different functional areas.
Depending on the scope of your management role, you may wear a lot of hats. If you are a general manager of multiple product or service lines, the best thing to do may be to assign different deputies full responsibility for their respective areas while you’re out. Tell them that decisions normally requiring your sign-off should go to them for their decision. Or, if that’s not appropriate, in some limited situations, they can escalate the questions to your own manager.
If you take this approach, you’ll have to make a list of things you do that nobody else does and make sure everything is assigned.
4. Set rules for how much you want to be in touch — and communicate them.
Elizabeth Deninzon of Accenture told us she completely disconnected from work during leave and didn’t check in: “As for hand-offs [before both my leaves], there were logical transition points that were planned to allow me to focus on having my baby.”
In part, this is because Deninzon told her clients around the same time as her boss and colleagues, who covered for her during her absence.
One woman told us that at the risk of seeming “super Type A”, she made the personal decision to have one weekly update conference call for 30 minutes with her 11 direct reports beginning the first week after she had her baby.
“I didn’t feel pressured into doing this," she said. "But felt that this would be the best way to truly have peace-of-mind and feel that everything was running smoothly.”
5. Be available for true emergencies and moral support.
Nobody really wants to deal with work while they’re out on leave, but sometimes the unpredictable happens. For our co-founder Romy Newman, this meant coming back to the office when one of her deputies quit while she was out on leave. She had to re-jigger assignments and responsibilities and also reassure the rest of the team that everything was going to be ok.
Being available for moral support is also important. It won’t take a lot of time from you and it can mean the world to an employee who is dealing with something extraordinary.
Hopefully no emergencies happen during your maternity leave, but as a manager, the buck does stop with you. That’s why having a plan will leave you feeling more relaxed and ready to enjoy your time away.