Tag Archives: Parental leave

Mommy Wars to the extreme

In Germany, the Mommy Wars are taking a turn for the worst.

Regretting motherhood’ debate rages in Germany

When the societal pressure to keep up a ridiculous standard of motherhood, in large part defined by men who are biologically incapable of having children, becomes the norm, something just isn’t right.

The notion that children’s well-being depends on their mothers and not on the society around them or their fathers, is deeply entrenched in Germany and creates real obstacles to women’s careers. … A mother who returns to the office without taking maternity leave for a year — or often three — opens herself up to being branded a “Rabenmutter” (raven mother) — women who dump their kids in childcare so they can pursue their personal goals.

Women regretting having children because they feel they can’t do it the way they see fit? It’s a sad day.

 

Go ahead and write your next chapter

Will my daughter survive? Yes. Will everything go to hell? No.

Will I worry about it anyway? Why, yes. Yes, I will.

I’ve gone from 12 daylight hours per day with my newborn to 2, maybe 3 if I’m lucky, now that I’ve returned to work. What a change! I’m afraid I’m going to miss all her firsts from here on out. (Turns out I missed a first even when I was home. I was getting a pizza and paying the delivery guy at the door when my daughter rolled over for the first time with my husband watching her for 30 freaking seconds. Sigh.)

Luckily, I’ve got a flexible job – or I’ve made it flexible. I check my email in the morning before going in, feed the baby before leaving the house, get in some good “think time” for the job during the commute, do the usual back-to-back-to-back meetings and calls (reserving time in my calendar to pump three times a day so that my daughter has milk for the next day), get home in time for her evening feeding, and wrap up work after I put her down for the night. The flexibility is in the face time at work: need to come in late or leave a little early? OK. Need to work from home to cover for my stay-at-home-dad husband who has a recurring appointment on Thursday mornings? Sure.

The bottom line is: as long as my network and staff connections continue to be nurtured, and the work gets done, I should have all the flexibility I want. So should it be for any parent at the company. I planned out this flexibility – and got buy-in from my colleagues – before the baby came.

Ours is a small company – about 25 people. And more than half of the employees are smart, ambitious 20-somethings. The rest of the employees who are parents have kids who are either grown adults now or well into school age. I know that many of the younger employees – who are newly married or in long term relationships or simply female – are watching very closely what happens to me; they will take cues from my experience about how successfully this company supports new parents.

I meticulously planned the 6 weeks prior to my parental leave. I gave people new responsibilities where it was needed and then conferred the appropriate promotions upon my return. It helped that we set up the situation for me to have a new role upon my return – nothing sucks more than to step in for a higher level person, do a great job, learn a great amount, and then be told that you have to go back and do your old job, thank you very much. Wait – I stand corrected. What sucks more is to continue to do a great job but not have an appropriate job title and/or compensation adjustment.

I’m not recommending that companies give everyone promotions because one person goes on parental leave. What I am saying is (1) plan well before your leave to minimize problems while you’re away, and (2) have a clear vision for what the next chapter is for you and others upon your return, and give people something to work toward in your absence. For us, it resulted in promotions – for other companies, it might be lateral transfers, rotations to different divisions to get additional exposure, classes for skill development, or pre-approved vacation time to clear heads and get rest after carrying extra workload for 3 months.

Whatever it is, write that next chapter with your team while the current chapter is still playing out. While I have a baby as my next personal chapter, I couldn’t ignore that I had to help write the next professional chapter as well.

I did it! Maternity leave, here I come.

I managed to comfortably set my team up for success while I’m gone.

  • Everyone knows their roles and responsibilities while I’m away.
  • I’ve distributed transition memos and have done transition calls with clients and project teams.
  • I set expectations about what I want to see when I get back.
  • I made my team’s needs primary in the transition.

One important factor in the success of this transition was to have a half day team retreat a few weeks before I was scheduled to take off. The idea was to have a safe environment off site in a fun, neutral environment in which people could communicate concerns and anxieties, and set ourselves up in the remaining weeks to address them. The retreat was facilitated by two outsiders, which was hugely important.

And it’s not like we didn’t have fun while we were at it. I made sure we had a luxurious breakfast (banana pancakes!), and we started off by talking about what we’re excited for and looking forward to in the next year, both personally and professionally.

Perhaps the biggest concept in motivating people to embrace this time rather than fear it was the potential upside for their own professional development and careers, certainly within the company, but I acknowledged, even beyond. That thing you always wanted to try your hand at? Well, now is the time.

I’m not saying it isn’t going to be rocky, but if there’s one thing I wanted my team to do more than anything else was to collaborate, cooperate, and coordinate. Rely on each other. I said that when I get back after a few months, I will be in a different role, so no one should expect things to go back to the way they were. Take this time to really show your stuff!

And the effect was immediate. The last few weeks have been characterized more by my team members practically tripping over each other in ideas, volunteerism, and excitement, than my dictating how anything should be. I’ve been mostly a silent party on client conference calls, in team meetings, and in email chains as I watch my staff step up in huge ways. I step in here and there to provide some tips and redirect where necessary, but for the most part, I think they cringe more at what they feel are larger mistakes than I believe they are in the big scheme of things. That’s a welcome sign of their taking personal accountability for their work.

Because we spent many weeks prepping clients, by the time I left, they were comfortable with my team members taking larger and larger roles and eventually felt comfortable as I transitioned out of the calls and meetings altogether.

My last few days on the job ended up being leisurely half days… no one needed me to do anything! My email volume plummeted, and I when I asked, I heard no concerns from clients. I was… bored. (Gasp!) My final “act” was to report to my business unit that we are way ahead of forecast and working more efficiently than we ever have before. How many execs can say any of those things in their last few days before taking a few months off? I’m so proud of my team! It truly is a gift.

 

Mentoring others: Gee, I should take some of my own great advice.

I have a very promising mid-level manager who was recently promoted and struggling with trying to oversee more initiatives at the 30,000 foot level when what she knows how to do confidently is work at the 30 foot level. Trying to get into the weeds for all of these initiatives is wearing her down, and she’s finding herself not as effective in management as she should be.

I advised that she use her knowledge of what it takes to be successful at the 30 foot level and guide staff to execute on that rather than executing on it herself. It’s a mix of telling people, “Here is what I want you to do,” and if needed, “Here is how you should approach it,” and most importantly, “Here is how we will know it worked.” She’s got the first and second things down pat. It’s the third thing she’s never done before. She never thought about measuring her successes in the weeds; her managers did that!

So how do you take someone new to management and teach them how to effectively measure the success of a project or program, and whether teams are being effective? She answered by starting where she is most comfortable – in the weeds. She said if people do X, Y, and Z (which is what she always did), we can say it’s successful. But checking off the tactical items on a list doesn’t necessarily mean success. It definitely means you’re doing work, but not necessarily being successful at it.

We eventually got to the point where she discovered starting at the client’s business objectives, and how the project or program is designed to meet those objectives, is the way to go. If she starts there, she can define a series of outcomes that she (and the client) want, and measure what the team does relative to those outcomes. If the team has really good direction from her, then she doesn’t need to be in the weeds doing the work – they can run with it, and she can measure it and make course corrections if needed.

* * * * *

That was an awesome and productive conversation with her. And I realized that in my maternity leave transition planning at work, I haven’t done enough effective management of the plan – I’ve been developing the plan from bottom up rather than top down. I am starting where I am most comfortable and familiar – my own version of being in the weeds, outlining who does what when – when I really should be starting at the client’s objectives and defining project team structure and metrics for success during my leave that will give others direction on an approach rather than dictating do’s and don’ts. Arming them with the right approach to a client’s set of service needs will help them be more flexible, responsive, and confident, and hopefully help avoid panic when a situation comes up that we couldn’t have predicted, or one that I didn’t explicitly outline.

I have great staff that are very good at taking my advice. Me – not so great at it, but I should start!

Maternity leave planning in 3 (easy? hah!) steps

I’m 30 weeks pregnant, which means its countdown time! Not just until the baby comes, but more urgently, countdown until I have to leave the job and cross my fingers that the maternity leave planning actually worked.

How do you plan for maternity leave?

headscratch

#1, you have to inventory what you do and who you do it for, and get past the shock value of how freaking long that list is.

#2, you have to say who is going to have to pick up the slack, and get past the guilt of abandoning coworkers to scrounge up extra time and energy to fill in your gap.

#3, you prepare your clients well in advance to let them know that a plan is in place, and get past the hand-wringing that will undoubtedly come with stress and worry and imagining all the things that could go wrong.

See? Easy.

* * * * *

I work at a small firm, which means: (a) there aren’t a whole lot of bodies to pick up the slack, and (b) our margins are smaller, meaning we can’t just go out and hire a bunch of FTEs or temps to do the gap-filling (like you can do a hire-a-veep for 3 months anyway).

I need to come up with The Plan. I’ve never done this before. What is The Plan supposed to look like? Well, having been on the other end of people going out on parental leave with poor planning, I know what I don’t want.

  1. I don’t want to leave people without the background knowledge and materials to do the work well, and I don’t want to leave them without resources to find help or answers when they come across something they don’t know.
  2. I don’t want clients to feel like there’s a vacuum of knowledge or personnel support once I leave.
  3. I don’t want junior people to feel like they’ll be taking a step back in professional development once I get back, after they’ve stepped up and gained great experience by filling in for me.

So The Plan needs to address:

  • Carving out sufficient time to train others and collect materials and resources for them, and communicating the professional development opportunities available to junior staff through this process. (But adequate support and advisors have to be there for that to be successful.)
  • Presenting clients with the new project teams and doing calls and work together over the next two months to get clients comfortable and giving them a level of confidence that others at the firm can do the work reliably. (Ahhhh, but that last word is the key, isn’t it?)
  • Having a vision for what project teams and roles/responsibilities will be when I return. (What I call “the black box” since I have no idea what that vision is.)

And TA-DA!! A successful maternity leave plan. P’shaw, piece of cake!