This is an article in our Pregnancy Week by Week series, a resource to help you manage your job and life, through and after your pregnancy.

Week 25: When It May Make Sense To Get Freelance Coverage During Your Maternity Leave

The idea of going on maternity leave can make even the most confident person feel a little nervous. What will it be like to be away from work for a few weeks, or months? While there are a wide range of issues around having a baby that can create anxiety, this week we focus on the concern some of you have about how everyone will manage while you’re out on leave.

Maybe you work for a small company, or simply don’t have any direct reports or colleagues who can take over your work for you. You may be concerned how your boss will deal with a large burden for an extended period of time, or that they will have to find a replacement for you.

What should you do in this case? There are three options:

Option 1:
Help your boss find a temporary, freelancer replacement for yourself.

Option 2: Make the best suggestions you can about coverage to your boss, and hope your manager will sort it all out.

Option 3: Work remotely on certain of your responsibilities, in conjunction with options 1 or 2, above.

It’s probably no surprise that Option 1 is probably our favorite choice. If your employer can afford it, finding a freelance worker to provide maternity leave coverage while you’re out can be a great way to enjoy a relatively work-free maternity leave, and also give your boss peace-of-mind.

We asked Michelle Meyer, founder of Emissaries, a freelance marketplace specializing in maternity leave coverage what some of the benefits are of finding someone to cover for you during your leave. This is what she had to say:

The social norm in the U.S. has been to have the work divvied up among coworkers but this practice isn’t ideal for long periods of time, revenue-generating roles or teams with pressing deadlines. There’s a better way to cover the workloads of new parents while they are out on extended leaves. The benefits of hiring a freelance fill-in include: 

  • One point of contact makes the transition less disjointed and less disruptive for teams

  • Your colleagues will be less likely (even subconsciously) to resent your leave and more likely to celebrate your expanding family

  • Presents an opportunity to glean expertise and insights from a reputable source in your industry

  • Creates an excellent gesture for companies to demonstrate that they support working parents and an overall wellness-based, balanced culture

  • Your company will attract and maintain top talent...if employees feel valued, they are more likely to reciprocate with their loyalty and hard work

If your boss agrees to hire a temporary replacement, congratulations! The likelihood that they will agree depends in part on your preparation for this question. The sooner you suggest hiring a temporary replacement, the more likely there will be enough time to find someone appropriate. You can also offer to interview your potential replacement before involving your manager in a final interview, which cuts down on their work.

If at all possible, try to meet your replacement (and offer to train them) before your leave to plan a smooth transition. If you have a say in selecting your temporary freelancer, you can be sure to select one that you believe will be the best fit for the work. Interviewing and meeting them also allows you to make sure they seem interested in continuing to freelance (rather than in taking your job)!

Another benefit of meeting your replacement before your leave is that you can clearly establish your preferences for communication. For example, be sure to tell your freelancer how much you want to stay involved, and how available you want to be (if at all) to answer their questions.

Some women we’ve talked to were concerned that their replacement would angle to take their job while they’re out. If you know you do your job well, put that concern out of your head. There is simply no way that a maternity leave cover for a few brief months is going to enchant your boss so much that he/she overthrows you for her. And even if you are worried you don’t do a good enough jobs, thank God for FMLA -- because you’ve got some pretty serious legal protections in place here.

Of course, it’s not always possible or practical to find yourself a replacement. In these cases, you’re faced with Option 2. You may have to suggest to your boss certain colleagues you believe could take on a few of your tasks in different areas. The more people you suggest, the less work each individual will have to take on.

The downside of getting too many other people involved is that this means more management administration for your boss -- it will be less straightforward for your manager to manage many different people and even to remember who is responsible for what. Ultimately, your boss will have to make a decision that works for him / her, but if you take the initiative, it shows you care and also can help your boss make plans more easily.

Finally, Option 3 is for those women who feel they can manage some remote work during an extended maternity leave. Perhaps you know that you can take some light work on that doesn’t require much face-to-face interaction or tight deadlines. You can always volunteer to do some work on your leave if you believe it will help an otherwise overly burdened team or freelancer who can’t handle everything on his/her own.

The advantage of this approach is that your colleagues will really appreciate your effort and you will feel more involved if you’re worried about that. The clear disadvantage is that you should be taking time off to rest and care for yourself and your child. If you use Option 3, just be careful not to take on too much!

You really have no idea what your maternity leave situation is going to feel like. How hard is your delivery going to be? How much will your child sleep or not? So try not to over-commit. You don’t want to promise something that you just won’t be able to live up to. After all, maternity leave is not the honeymoon many people think it is. 

Bottom line: the best thing is to put together some options, lay them out, and sit down with your boss and make sure that he/she sees you are really willing to help manage this situation.

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