Preparing for a new baby can be a daunting experience—especially for a first-time parent balancing a high-pressure job.
But taking time off to bask in the new parent glow does not have to pose an existential threat to your career trajectory or your standing within the workplace. With some planning and a heavy dose of communication, even the most demanding job should be able to handle losing a few months of your expertise. To help you make your transition to parenthood even smoother, use this checklist to get everything in order.
Learn your company’s policies
First things first: get acquainted with your company’s leave policies and learn which you are entitled to. See if you can find out what colleagues in your position have done in the past—but this is only a guide, not a mandate. Parental leave is a personal decision, although it can be helpful to see how others have forged this path so you know if you’re making an unprecedented request.
If your company does not provide parental leave benefits, you may need to rely on short-term disability or the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Short-term disability benefits vary state-by-state but could give the expectant mother between six and 12 weeks of leave with between 50 and 100 percent of your pay. However, short-term disability will cover only the person physically unable to work—in short, fathers are not eligible. Some plans may offer additional time off if there are pregnancy and delivery complications or a caesarean section. The FMLA, on the other hand, requires employers to give workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child—and fathers and mothers can both use this time. The law mandates that you be allowed to return to the same job or a similar role with your salary and benefits in tact. There are exceptions, however: if you’ve been at your job less than a year or only part time, you might not be eligible for FMLA. If you and your co-parent work at the same company, you might be entitled to only 12 weeks combined.
When finding time for your parental leave, you may also want to tap into your PTO allowance. Some companies, however, may have specific policies around how you use this time so find out the situation at your organization. But no matter what you do, arm yourself with all of the facts and then begin planning your leave to present to your manager.
Present your plan
When it comes time to disclose your pregnancy or your co-parent’s pregnancy to your manager, go with an action plan. With the research you’ve done, you may be more versed than your manager on the options available to you—that’s fine, give the boss time to figure out the details as you have. But by coming to this meeting prepared and with a vision for how you’ll transition out and back into your role without missing a beat—and with your work not left unaccounted for—your manager will likely feel less anxious about your upcoming time off.
Keep your colleagues informed
It’s important to remember that your parental leave may have unintended consequences on your colleagues. Some may fear the workload that will fall on them in your absence. Others may feel personal resentment given that you are embarking on a happy stage of your life that they may not have gotten to experience. Some of these feelings may be open and obvious, others may seem to come out of left field or appear without explanation. Keep communication open and tread firmly but gently. You deserve your time with your new baby but are not entitled to the cheerful buy-in of your coworkers—this must be earned.
Prepare for everything
Especially if you’re usually the office go-to person, you’ll need to start preparing your team early. Create a digital file of all the contacts that you routinely reach out to so that your coworkers and reports know how to reach important people you’d usually run point with. Introduce clients to your parental leave replacement so that the contact is already warm. Then, make sure your coworkers and reports have access to all of the files needed to complete or continue ongoing projects. You don’t want your coworkers calling you while you’re home and sleep-deprived with the baby asking where you keep the Smith File. Know which projects will need babysitting when you’re gone and assign stewards for them all who are equipped with everything they need to succeed.
From exit strategy to entrance strategy
Setting expectations for your return can be as important as preparing for your time away. Maybe you’ll need to alter your hours to work around your childcare needs. Maybe you’ll need a flexible work arrangement that allows for more telecommuting. Maybe you’ll need access to a room where you can pump breast milk. Communicate these needs before your scheduled return date so that no one is surprised when you disappear for an hour at lunchtime to pump when you’d usually be found at your desk.
For bonus points, it can’t hurt to show a little gratitude for the folks that picked up the slack in your time away. While you certainly don’t have to, it can help smooth your return to bring in small tokens of your gratitude for your team who may have had to work extra hard in your absence.