Thursday, August 20, 2015

Week 33: Prepping for Maternity Leave

Yesterday I had a minor meltdown because I couldn't find leftovers in our work fridge that I had intended to eat for lunch--I won't lie, there were tears involved. I felt utterly betrayed because I know all of my coworkers, and I couldn't believe that one of them would just eat someone else's lunch.  ...Come to find out those leftovers had never made it into the work fridge--they had been left in the back seat of a coworker's car 5 days ago.  So HELLO Baby Brain.  
If you're like me--a career gal who plans to go back to work after baby comes--there's a fair amount of prep work that goes into making sure that things will run as smoothly as possible before you take off.

1. Notifying Your Boss:  I did this early on, like 11 weeks in, so that he would know WHY I was calling in sick if I had a bad bout of morning sickness, or if (heaven forbid) something had happened in the early stages & I needed to take off for a while.  Not everyone may feel comfortable doing this.  But I've been with my company for 6 years, and have a good working relationship with my boss--plus, he has 5 kiddos of his own, so he's been there.  Really, the hardest part was making sure he kept his mouth shut until we were ready to announce around Week 20--which was REALLY hard for him. :)

2. Deciding How Long To Take Off:  This will be different for everybody.  Some people are super-lucky & work for Netflix or Apple & have long paid leaves.  Others may rely on their paychecks & need to go back after only a few weeks.  And some may work for companies that don't qualify for FMLA that guarantees your employer can't fire you for taking up to 12 weeks off.  My company offers short-term disability insurance (which delivery of a baby qualifies as), so I got that policy back when my husband & I got married "just in case".  It provides us with a check for either 6 or 8 weeks  (depending on whether you have a traditional birth or c-section) of 60% of my gross pay. (NOTE: if you have this policy, be sure that it's updated with your current salary or hourly wage so you get the right amount.)  So I knew I would be taking at least 6 weeks leave.  Our company doesn't qualify for FMLA but my employer voluntarily allows up to 12 weeks leave of absence, and we have been saving up for a while, so I decided to take the full 12 weeks to maximize my time with my new little one and give me plenty of time to recuperate and try to figure out our schedule.  

3. Scheduling Your Leave: Of course, you won't really know WHEN your leave will start, but there's generally going to be some paperwork involved.  Your HR department should have a form for requesting leave, which will need to be submitted to your doc who signs off, confirming that yes, you are in fact going to have a baby and that's not just a basketball you've been hiding under your shirt.  My doctor's office also had a form I had to fill out, authorizing my doctor to share that info with my employer.  YAY paperwork.  Get this taken care of by Month 7 or 8, just in case your little one decides to show up early.

4. Figuring Out Who Will Handle Your Work While You're Out:  I had about 25 long-term projects that I'm managing at any one time.  That's a LOT of tasks for someone else to juggle, in addition to their work, while I'm gone for 3 months. In order to lighten the load, about 7 of these projects were permanently re-delegated to others in the office.  The rest were distributed between various coworkers to be covered temporarily while I'm out.  We chose these coworkers a couple months ago, and I started CC-ing them on all email communications about those projects, so that they could somewhat organically get up to speed on what's going on with each of them.   

5.  Informing Non-Coworkers:  I am a consultant, so I deal with my clients directly, as well as state and federal regulators. As noted above, I have been CC-ing the temporary project managers on all my email communications--but I've also been letting my clients and the regulatory contacts know WHY--basically just a little blurb in my last paragraph stating that I will be out on maternity leave starting late September / early October, and that I have CC'd the person who will be overseeing the project while I'm out so that my client and the regulatory case manager has their contact information.  That way there are no last minute surprises or clients trying to get a hold of me and getting frustrated/mad at our company for being unresponsive. I started this around Month 7

6. Getting Organized:  Yes, I know where each of my projects stands, and where to find things in files, and who the onsite contact is for each of my sites--but the person who will be covering for me probably does not.  So, I created a spreadsheet for tracking each of my sites.  It's all in one Excel file, so it's easy to find, and each site has its own worksheet.  At the top of each sheet is the pertinent info--client name, contact info, project number, the address of the site, which of our senior scientists does final reviews the reports for that site, and who the regulatory contacts are for each site, along with any pertinent notes (is the site manager high-maintenance, does the client prefer email reports over hard copies, etc.).  Then there's a section for "Next Action" and "Schedule", so that whoever is covering that site knows exactly what the next thing that needs to be done is, and when it's due. (I usually track these things in Outlook Tasks--but since my coworkers won't have access to that, it's important to have it somewhere on our server so they can get to it.)  Then, I generated a brief site history with dates below that, so they can relatively quickly see an overview of what's gone on with the site.  This is also a place for them to update things as they happen while I'm out, so that I can get back up to speed more quickly once I come back.  I emailed each of the temporary project managers, along with the senior scientists who oversee the projects, a link to this spreadsheet with a subject line essentially saying "SAVE FOR MY MATERNITY LEAVE".

My hard copy files can also get a bit messy at times as well, so I've spent a bit of time making sure that they're well organized and in an order than makes sense--so if one of my coworkers needs to find field notes from a certain day, they can open my filing cabinet, find the project file, and then find a folder in there specifically for "Field Notes", rather than having to sift through an entire file. Given that many of our sites have years, if not decades, worth of site history, organization is very important.

7. Getting Balls Out of Your Court:  This one is probably pretty obvious, but I'm doing my best to make sure that when I leave, most of my sites are in a period of waiting on someone else-- whether it's on a client to make a decision, or on a regulator to review a report or approve a work plan.  I know timing-wise it'll be impossible to get every site to this point, but we're trying to get most of them there.  That way, when the temporary project manager takes on the project, I'm not immediately piling more work on them.  We typically have to wait 2-3 months to get approvals back from the state, so theoretically if we time it right, that means the person covering for me has a month or two until they actually have to actively manage that site.

8. IT Stuff:  If your job involves a lot of email, you'll want to make sure you set an "Out of Office" message so that people get a notification when they send you an email.  You probably also want to have your emails forwarded to someone for a while so they can distribute them where they need to go--for me, it will be my boss.  (If you get a lot of daily/weekly emails from blogs or other non-essential sources, it might be a good idea to unsubscribe from those while you're out so the person isn't getting bombarded with emails.)  I'll likely have IT turn off forwarding during my last month of leave so I can see what's coming in and start getting back into the habit of "work mode".

9. Transitioning:  This sort of ties back into #2, but check with your boss to see if you have the option to slowly ease your way back into work, rather than coming back full time immediately. These days, many companies are set up for working remotely or telecommuting, including mine.  After my leave was over, I worked from home a couple days and then in the office a few days each week for the first month back.  If remote working isn't an option for you and your budget can handle it, see if you can go part-time for a month or two, if needed--but be sure to find out if that will affect your eligibility for insurance and other benefits.

10. Who to Notify:  When baby is ready to make his grand appearance, you may not be at work.  You likely already have a list of people to text or call when the time comes--so make sure there's someone from work on that list.  I have my boss and then two other coworkers on our list.  Also--we have decided that we only want our immediate family coming to the hospital, so you may want the coworkers that you notify to disseminate your choices as far as that goes to your fellow coworkers, lest you end up with 20 people all trying to cram into your hospital room at once.  If so, give them a heads up in advance so you have a good team of people who are in the know and know what YOU want.

11. Visiting/Working While On Maternity Leave: Most likely, your coworkers are going to want you to stop by with the baby at some point so they can meet him, ooh, ahh, and all that sort of thing. I'm pretty sure it's required.   Make sure to talk with your doc about when is a good time to do this--generally, they'll want the baby to have had some of his/her vaccines before you start taking them out & about (6-8 weeks).  Also, if you're needing some adult time, ask your partner to stay home with the baby or get a parent to watch them for a couple hours while you run up to the office and visit or take care of a few things--but, if you do a little work while you're still on unpaid leave, talk with your boss about how that needs to be managed so you get compensated for your time--particularly if you're a salaried employee.  Every workplace will be different.

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