This phase really does feel like a rollercoaster to every woman: excited, energised one moment, sick or tired and fearful of the future the next moment, coupled with a changing body shape and rather adhoc emotions. It’s no surprise that it is a somewhat confusing period in our lives ….(imagine how it is for partners watching on!).
There are many factors that you will not be able to directly control; so focus on what you can control and influence; starting with a positive perspective and taking ownership. Here are a few pointers:
As the Professional woman:
- If you haven’t already, understand the internal HR policies around maternity and talk to others you know, who have already been through this transition. They may have some ideas and advice that may not be obvious to you – both what to do and what not to do!
- It is very personal as to when you advise your Manager of your pregnancy and the relationship you have will of course influence your decision. If the thought of it feels like a weight on your shoulders, then it is probably time to take action! Write down any concerns you have and address each one in turn. Challenge any concerns which are your “assumptions” – “s/he will think I am no longer committed”. If you still believe that, then ask yourself; “what do I need to say & or do; to demonstrate my commitment to my Manager?”. A useful exercise is to put yourself in the shoes of your Manager – what may be their pain points? Start thinking about how you can mutually overcome any obstacles. Even if you do not have the answers straight away, the fact that you have started thinking about potential challenges during your time off, will demonstrate that you are fully committed and want the transition out and back to be as seamless as possible.
- Once you have shared with your Manager, agree that you plan to share the news with the wider team &/or those impacted. Brainstorming with others and engaging the team in finding solutions collaboratively, will also minimise potential conflict, or resentment by peers that they are having more work “put on them”, when the time comes! Agree a transition work plan, ensure any work processes that need to be adhered to are well-documented and stored centrally and schedule handovers with relevant individuals. Allow time to work for at least one week where you have fully handed over but you are still working so that you can act as advisor and/or shadow; to ensure that skills/knowledge is transferred.
- Be aware that it is completely normal if you are also hit by fears of “my peer(s) may do a better job that I have done….” or “I will become obsolete….”; especially if you are a high performer! Rather than pay attention to these fears/’saboteurs’; ask yourself, “what is the opportunity here? What tasks have become meaningless or no longer a challenge for me? What would be great to hand-over? What would I love to create some space for; in pursuit of my professional aspirations, when I return?” Once you remove the feeling of threat, you move away from feeling defensive; and open up feelings of possibility.
- Agree boundaries during the maternity break – do you want to be contacted at all during the period, would you like to receive any information, be involved in any virtual team meetings, see any reports etc? Reflect on what is important for you, at this time. It is very personal and unique for each individual – some love to completely ‘switch off’ from work and be completely in the moment with their new baby, others like to feel connected in some way formally, whilst some like organising informal drop-ins/coffees with colleagues to catch up on news and developments at work.
As the to-be Mother:
- As crazy as it may seem when you may only be half way through your pregnancy, explore child care options now. For those of you who may have relocated to Switzerland, you may not have lots of family and friends to help here. Explore what child care is available. Make time to visit crèches/mamans de jour; so that you can pick the best option for you and your family. Talk to people, ask around. Be aware that many crèches do not take babies less than 12 months &/or have a waiting list, so take care of this now; so that you don’t have to focus on it post birth.
- It is easy to focus purely on work and logistics at this time. It is important however to also take care of yourself and build your stamina, to recharge your batteries. Increase your knowledge of the hormonal and physiological changes you are going through, so that you understand how best to take care of yourself.
- Find out what pre-natal groups there are, new Mothers groups in the area, events to bring together 1st time parents etc. There are many resources here in Suisse Romande (happy to share a list if you drop us an email.) This is very important, even if you do not make contact prior to the baby being born, at least to have the information. Often, after the 1st few weeks of your baby being born, one can feel more isolated or have lots of questions. It is a great relief to meet with others who are also at the same stage as you, to share highs and lows; so that you ‘normalise’ a lot of what you may be feeling.
As the Line Manager:
Maybe you are reading this and you are also a leader in a team, with a diverse workforce? As a Manager, what is useful to consider?
- Be prepared! Many women start families (average age here in Switzerland is 31 years old) at the same time as they are taking on greater professional and managerial responsibilities. If you have some talented females in your team who fall into this category, then plan ahead. Use your reviews to build trust in your relationships so that you can be proactive about development of high performing resources and have clear succession plans, whilst being mindful of pending career breaks.
- Be aware that male leaders/top talent have very different needs today and being a ‘hands-on’ Father is often a top priority. Corporate values such as flexible working, appreciation of family values and supporting dual-career families are rated highly when male talent are assessing the best organisation to maximise their strengths and further their career. The culture of the company and the direct team will influence their choices.
- Explore how to maximise a maternity or paternity break – remember that this is also a great opportunity for others in the team to develop new skills, so reflect on how the team can play to, and develop, their strengths here. It may be the person who is leaving for maternity/paternity will be ready for the next step in her/his career and this provides the perfect opportunity to hand-over some roles & responsibilities, to make space for new challenges on their return.
“Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net”