Life used to be simple: You fell in love, got married and had a baby. Mom stayed home, and dad went to work. Nice and easy, right? But for many women today baby makes four: you, your partner, your baby -- and your job.
How do you balance your changing body, your changing hormones and your career? Start by planning your maternity leave early in your pregnancy. Here's how:
Break the News
Depending on your relationship with your boss, this may be the easiest -- or toughest -- part of the process. Be sure to give your boss some idea of your plans and assure him that you'll make the transition as smooth as possible. "Your message needs to be, 'I care about this job, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure things run smoothly while I'm not here,'" says DeAnne Rosenberg, a career consultant in Wareham, Massachusetts, and author of A Manager's Guide to Hiring the Best Person for Every Job.
Nail Down the Policy
In a perfect world, you'd get information on your company's leave policy before breaking the news to your boss, but you'll probably have to talk to someone in human resources for specifics. Knowing how fast news travels in a company, you should talk to your boss first. Make an appointment with HR so you'll have the person's full attention, and be sure to get everything in writing.
Consider Your Options
As you're deciding how much leave to take -- or even whether to return at all -- take your time. And remember that you may feel differently once the baby is born. "Most women, unless they're absolutely sure they're not returning, will say they are returning," says etiquette expert Emily Post. "At least be as clear as possible on what some of the dates and boundaries are."
Write a Playbook
Put together a written job description, including a calendar with daily, weekly and/or monthly duties. Attach a step-by-step set of instructions, a list of helpful hints, client information and contact information. "Some people put together a notebook that says, 'when this happens, do this.' This is the kind of thing that should go directly to the boss," says Rosenberg. "Leave things in the kind of shape where somebody else can step in and do the job while you're away." You should also do some hands-on training with the person covering for you.
Nothing stays the same, especially in business. When you return from maternity leave, don't expect everything to be the same as it was when you left. There may be internal changes at your company, or market forces may have changed the way business is conducted. Or worse -- the person who covered for you did a better job. Expect the unexpected, but remember that you have a track record. "You have a strong leg up there, because they know you," says Rosenberg. "You're a known quantity, so they'd rather have you than anyone else."
The best thing you can do is communicate your needs and plans clearly. And don't forget to thank everyone who helps you along the way.
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