Your coworker just announced they are going on maternity leave and you’re happy for them. You also want them to not worry about taking time off, or to feel stressed about the work they’re leaving behind. At the same time though, you understandably have concerns about losing a key member of the team for several months.
If you are employed and pregnant, you are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, no matter how long you've worked for your employer. This is made up of 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave.
Obviously, a team member who goes on parental leave will return and supporting them is key. However, this does mean adjustments have to be made so help the remaining staff in the meantime.
“The smooth running of a team depends on, amongst many other things, good communication and support between team members,” says Ayesha Murray, a career and life coach. “Empathy, collaboration, honesty and trust are key pillars to forming great teams. And that smooth running means allocating enough time for planning the transition of someone going on parental leave.”
It’s also essential to give teams enough time to work out a plan. Not only do you need to find out how people will be affected and what they need, you need to put processes in place for the person going on leave and everyone else.
“Without time to make any adjustments, balls will be dropped, communication could break down and there'll be no plan to keep everyone, and everything on track,” says Murray. “That could have an impact on the efficiency and wellbeing of the team as a whole.”
So what factors should employers, managers and workers consider when someone is away from the office for a longer period of time?
“The first consideration is to give enough time for any adjustments to be made. Expecting a smooth transition if adjustments are made at the last minute just isn't realistic,” Murray says.
“Involving the staff member in collaborative conversations early on is a great way to show support and respect. What are their thoughts on how they can transition out of the business temporarily? Who do they think is in the best position to take on their responsibilities? What do they expect their return-to-work plan to be? Is there anything they'd like to kept abreast of while they're on leave?”
It’s essential to have an open conversation with the team member who is going on parental leave. Knowing their plan can help you plan around their absence, which will make them feel more comfortable when they return. It is also important to think about what will happen when they come back to work. They may want a phased return to the workplace, which may mean working different hours.
“Be open and honest with your employee,” says Murray. “How long do they want to take off? How much involvement do they want, if any? Find out if they can be involved in writing a transition plan as they're closest to the day-to-day management.”
While the focus may be on the person leaving and covering their role and responsibilities while they are away, other workers should be kept in the loop too.
Including the wider team in conversations not only ensures a smooth transition but also demonstrates that the employer genuinely has the best interests of their staff in mind. The best way to support your employees is to ask them what they need to do their jobs – rather than make any assumptions. Having an open environment in which people can voice their thoughts or problems is key to a happy, healthy team.
Although it’s the responsibility of the employer or manager to make sure everyone is happy and prepared, it’s also important for other staff members to support the individual going on leave.
“Again, this means honest conversations about how they'd like to transition, what support they need from the rest of the team, and what they would like to see happen while they are on leave,” says Murray.
“Depending on the team set up, the remaining team may have to bring in temp or freelance support,” she adds. “So think about what the process is for that – and make sure they give themselves enough time to get someone new in and allow for a thorough handover.
“The staff member going on parental leave will feel so much more comfortable if they know their job is in safe hands and they've had the opportunity to hand over properly.”
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