3 Things My Employer Got Right About Maternity Leave
I told my boss that I was pregnant while we stood in line for coffee at a Starbucks. We had just finished a successful client pitch meeting and we were discussing the potential future growth of his agency. I was ten weeks pregnant, and contemplating the very certain growth of my household. I was excited, and the announcement just sort of came out. I knew he would be happy for me personally, as we’d known each other for years and he knew that I wanted a child. But still, I was nervous. It was February, and I’d only started my position at the beginning of January. Besides that, I had no guarantee of any time off or even that my position would still be available if I took maternity leave. The company had less than 50 employees, so FMLA laws did not apply.
Here’s the first thing my boss did right. He congratulated me sincerely...and then set up a meeting to discuss a maternity leave plan. That sincerity shouldn't be underestimated. Before, during and after my maternity leave he did a few other awesome things that let me know I was an appreciated asset to the company and that my employer and the entire team cared about my personal happiness. I'd like to share them to illustrate that whether you're a giant tech firm or a little agency in Sarasota, Florida, you can be human when it comes to parental leave.
Let parents take part in the planning.
Every family is different. Some women want a lot of leave, others are ready to go back to work sooner. Sometimes the other parent stays home, sometimes not. Working with the parent lets them know you're investing in their success as a person as well as an employee. It's the right thing to do, and it means there are no surprises for you or your team.
My employer and I sat down several times before my maternity leave. We talked at length about the country's lack of mandated parental leave, FMLA, what the biggest companies were doing, what I thought was fair and what the company could afford. Having these conversations let us set up a parental leave schedule that worked for both me and the company.
Help parents afford leave.
Whether you're a huge corporation or a small mom & pop shop, you can help new parents on your team afford their parental leave. I work for a small digital agency; we can't afford paid parental leave. My salary during maternity leave went to the freelancers who covered my projects. But my employer did the next best thing by offering every employee supplemental insurance through Aflac. Which meant on the day I had my daughter, I didn't have to think about how I was going to pay my bills for the next 12 weeks. I knew exactly how much I would be receiving from Aflac, which meant I was able to plan ahead. Which is nice, because any new mom will tell you that a lot of the plans you make surrounding your child's birth will not end up being the plan at all.
Offer flexibility to parents.
And non-parents actually. I understand some jobs require office time, but I think way too often we let the bogeyman of a slacker employee lounging on the beach keep us from recognizing the truth: employees work because you're paying them to do so, not because they're in the office.
In this hyper-connected world, in which I can open a Google document on my phone, send it to DropBox, communicate to my team via Slack that I need comments by 3pm, and then video chat to discuss changes, it seems silly to demand that I sit in an office Monday through Friday from 9 to 5. And that lack of flexibility makes it very tough for parents, particularly mothers, to return or remain in the work force. Besides, it sucks. It sucks being away from the greatest and cutest thing you've ever known in your life, and it sucks paying outrageous daycare prices. So, I work from home. It makes sense. And my schedule is flexible, because that also makes sense. Finally, they let me bring my little nugget into the office, which lets me spend more time with my daughter, save on daycare costs, and reinforces that I am part of a special, awesome team of amazing people who all support each other in every facet of our lives.
Speaking of special and amazing, my daughter just woke up from her nap, which means this blog must be finished. Thanks for sleeping through my drafting, baby girl!