My best manager did this...maternity edition
November 27, 2016 5:31 PM   Subscribe

I posted this a few months ago and found it very helpful! Can we try again, but this time with maternity leave related questions/answers?

A few months ago I posted a "my best manager did this" question and the responses were very helpful. I'm looking for similar answers, but this time as it relates to maternity leave.

Please finish these sentences for me:
1. My best manager did ______ when I went out on maternity leave and/or returned to the office after maternity leave.
2. My worst manager did ______when I went out on maternity leave and/or returned to the office after maternity leave.
3. In retrospect, I wish my manager had done ________ when I went out on maternity leave and/or returned to the office after maternity leave.

Men are welcome to answer as well in regards to paternity/family leave, or if they want to share their partner's experiences.

Please assume I am already familiar with the relevant laws. This is more about supportive and soft landings for staff who are going out on maternity/paternity leave.
posted by Toddles to Work & Money (20 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
1.) let me stop traveling and exclusively work from home after the baby was born. She also blocked off the first week of my return so I could catch up on emails and learn anything that changed while I was out. ( I get assigned to billable client work exclusively so this was huge for me to have time to catch up.)

When I did have to travel for work, she made sure I stayed at a hotel with a full size fridge to store Breastmilk and food since I am on a restrictive diet due to my son's food sensitivities. She also made sure that everyone knew I had free reign of my schedule and was perfectly fine with me walking out of meetings so I could go pump on a scheduled basis.

The worst thing my manager did was tell HR before I did. I had to tell my boss I was pregnant earlier than I had wanted as she scheduled me to be in Australia during my due date - and my boss is good friends with the VP of HR - so she mentioned my pregnancy several weeks before I intended to inform them.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 5:46 PM on November 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Some of these in #1 are wishes rather than reality (so I didn't answer #3), but:

1) Best = Made it clear that I was not expected to check in at all during my maternity leave, and that I would only be contacted if absolutely necessary for questions of the "where is X" variety. Checked in with me about 2 weeks before my return. Made sure that I had a full but not overwhelming workload on my return; proactively checked with me about pumping both before I returned and the entire time I was pumping to make sure that I had a reasonable opportunity and place to pump.

2) Worst = Started taking me off projects several months before I actually left. Gave me an unnecessarily crazy workload with lots of late nights in my last few months of pregnancy. Told me that my priorities would change once I had a baby, and I probably wouldn't want to return. Commented on my pregnant body. Didn't have a dedicated place for me to pump; required me to coordinate with other people in advance to schedule time in shared rooms. Didn't provide a locked room for pumping.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:01 PM on November 27, 2016

My department just restructured, so I can answer this from both perspectives.

1. My best manager just didn't care when I went/will go on PTO/paternity leave. (My baby was due yesterday and still hasn't come yet, so I haven't actually taken leave yet.) He just said "when it's time, it's time".

2. My worst manager didn't bother approving my time off requests. Since my time off would be around the holidays, she "wanted to wait" to make sure no one else asked off for the same days. By the time we restructured, in early November, she had still not decided - three weeks before the due date. It should be noted that, not only was I asking off for the birth of my freaking child, I'm also the third-most senior person in our department, and one of the two more senior people has already exhausted her PTO.

3. In retrospect, I wish my company offered fucking paternity leave. Or, hell, even though I'm a dude, maternity leave. Your only choices for time off are to not take a vacation that year, go on FMLA, or not get paid. It's awful. It sucks enough for guys only spending a couple of days with their kids, but no maternity leave even? Pregnancy is hard. There are a lot of potential complications, before and after. To say "tough shit" is barbaric.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:02 PM on November 27, 2016

If the person has roles that only he/she knows how to do, carve out specific time in her schedule to document that work, and aim to have it at least basically defined by the end of the second trimester. I ended up having to check email once a week because my daughter came early and I hadn't trained anyone how to do a bunch of different things
posted by rockindata at 6:11 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best = gave me plenty of opportunity beforehand to document and train people in on my responsibilities, let me work exclusively from home during the last two or so weeks of pregnancy to accommodate a ton of doctor appointments, did not contact me in any way during maternity leave except to send a congratulatory gift and schedule a check-in call a couple weeks prior to my return.

Worst = interpreted my informing them of my pregnancy (in a private, closed-door meeting) as permission to freely share the news with the entire damn office; expected me to hit the ground running on my first day back in the office with zero time to even skim my email backlog or catch up on any changes that had transpired in my absence.
posted by anderjen at 6:29 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I only have a 2) unfortunately. My worst manager denied me a promotion I'd been promised and gave me a raise well under even cost-of-living (below 1%), despite giving me a stellar review and having my subordinates and coworkers praise my performance, because, and I quote, "You took a month of maternity leave, thus you didn't work for the company for an entire year, so you're not actually entitled to anything this year."

I took 1 month of unpaid maternity leave, and I worked from home for two weeks before and after that.

But yeah, fuck that guy. HR certainly heard about it when I was on my way out the door. I was considering jumping ship before that, but that gave me the final push, and I heard through the grapevine he'd been unceremoniously let go a few months after I left.
posted by erst at 6:55 PM on November 27, 2016

1. My best manager was super excited for me to have a baby, and excited for me to come back. He had normal (high) expectations of me on my return. He didn't make me feel weird about pumping or anything, including when I was traveling with him and a ton of other guys. Another senior leader got me into a frequent flyer lounge to pump when we were all running through an airport together. <3 those guys.
2. My worst manager demanded to know if I wasn't drinking because I was pregnant (yes, 4 weeks.) When I took off on leave, she blamed me for all her incompetence and mismanagement, which had resulted in my working evenings/weekends throughout my pregnancy, and nearly got me fired on my return. (Including, weirdly, lying to the CEO about whether she had put me on a PIP. Which was, uh, easily verified. She had not.)
3. In retrospect, I wish my manager had shut up, been normal, and not used my maternity leave as a cover for her own gross mismanagement when I went out on maternity leave and/or returned to the office after maternity leave.

In summary, bosses of pregnant ladies is a land of contrasts. Also fuck that one lady, she's dead to me.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:06 PM on November 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

My bosses did not contact me in ALMOST any way, and went so far as to take me off shared aliases for the time I was out (not so I would miss important things, but so I would not get all the spam).

The reason my boss did contact me was something that would have caused more anxiety for me had he not. Our company went through a major change while I was gone (some layoffs including some in my division), and my manager shot me an email to say he was happy to discuss what was going on whenever and however I wanted, including not at all.

Pre-leave, I had the baby very late, and my managers gave zero shits about when I was in the office and for how long after my due date. I needed the distraction at that point, and I used the time to do some professional development and keep on top of random daily work (I'm a web developer and designer).
posted by kellygrape at 7:36 PM on November 27, 2016

I was the manager, so I'll tell you what I am happy/not happy about what I did for myself and my reports.

Best things:
1) I encouraged everyone to take as much time off as they wanted/could. I work in a field where it's common for women to take short maternity leaves for coverage/financial reasons and also because they tend to be personally focused on professional achievement. A couple of people came to talk to me proposing 6 week leaves, but I always encouraged them to plan for a 12-week leave if it wasn't financially prohibitive and then let me know if they decided to come back earlier (these were people with six-figure salaries but heavy loan burdens). Both of them ended up taking the full 12 weeks and told me later that they were happy that I had encouraged them not to come back early.

2) when people were out, they were OUT. I did not ever expect anyone to return an email or check a chart. We set up an internal coverage system.

Worst things:

1) I think I could have been more proactive about making sure people got protected time for pumping. I had a really difficult time finding time to pump and ended up only doing it before work, at lunch, and after work, which meant not such a great supply, and I think some of the other women took their cues from me. And I waited for other women to let me know what they wanted to do about pumping rather than directly asking them ahead of time. I wish I'd been more aggressive about making sure they knew I supported them having some protected time. They all also had offices with locking doors, but it was hard for them to close the door and really get down to business because people were always checking to see if they were free, so maybe I should have found another place for them to pump as well.

2) it took a while before I realized our internal coverage system for people out on medical leave was putting most of the work on a few particular people when it could have been distributed much more widely.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:21 PM on November 27, 2016

I was lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive boss before, during, and after my maternity leave. This is in the context of a non-academic department (like the libraries or IT) in a large US research university. The university HR and the state had pretty specific rules on the amount of leave allowable and how much of it could be paid, so my boss had no say in that beyond approving that I would take everything available to me.

My boss gave me a huge amount of schedule flexibility pre-leave and on my return, including allowing me to work from home once a week in the last month before my leave and to return at a reduced schedule, slowly upping my hours as my daycare schedule allowed. I spent most of those work-from-home days doing documentation of various tasks that I was the only one who knew how to do at the time.

The university already had established well-supplied pumping rooms (private, with a sink, hospital-grade pump, fridge, and reasonably comfortable office chair), shared among several buildings; there were two or three other people using it over the same period I was. My boss never gave me any trouble for taking time during the work day to pump, even when I had supply issues and was losing at least an hour a day to pumping 3x for 20 min.
posted by nonane at 4:34 AM on November 28, 2016

1) My state's law is to allow pumping breaks for nursing mothers up to 12 months post-partum. My kid's sensitive to foods and we weren't sure what those sensitivities were yet, so I wanted to keep pumping beyond that date. So when I asked my male manager if I could continue to take pump breaks as needed beyond 12 months, he said, "Of course. That is the most personal thing in the world. I hear more about [male coworker]'s early morning runs and schedule adjustments than your pumping. Do whatever you need to do."

He also never really brought up my pumping breaks at all and treated them as a non-issue. I left for my lunch break everyday to nurse my kid at daycare, too, and he made sure to support my schedule (had to get there when the kid was hungry and not asleep!) and schedule around me as needed.

Basically, he treated me like an adult and understood the priorities of a parent of an infant. I got my work done, and he had no complaints.
posted by jillithd at 7:01 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a manager, a mom who took two maternity leaves, and as an advocate for maternity-leave and pumping policy within my company...

Definitely understand that the start dates of the leave are hard to predict. Someone might delivery early/unexpectedly, need bed rest, or go longer than anticipated. There's no way for the pregnant woman to predict any of this.

For my second pregnancy, when I was about two months out from my due date my boss (who I liked a lot) had me wind down from all my main tasks and hand off to someone else. We identified a few projects I could work on (documentation, etc) as my time freed up. The goal was that when the day finally arrived, I could sign off and not look over my shoulder. They were still plenty happy for me to return - this was not done in such a way as to make me feel threatened or pushed out.

There are a ton of how-to-handle-pumping threads on here, so I won't rehash all that advice, except please make sure there's a plan for private space for the pumping mom to use.

Encourage your staff to take off their maximum amount of time - a six-week leave is the reality for some, but it's a brutal thing to do to new families. This country needs to do much, much more for working moms and dads.

Have a plan for what happens if people don't stick to their original plans. I've had people decide they want to trade off time with the father or take advantage of a visiting grandparent, and ask for something like six weeks now, six weeks later in the year (which, as a side note, was surprisingly difficult to deal with in terms of projects and workload, moreso than a straight 12 weeks off). Or what happens if people want to ramp back in slowly, part time at first. Figure out your company policies in advance and make sure you are engaged with HR so that you are handling any requests consistently among people on your team.

Make sure that no one views the maternity leave as "vacation." I had people say things to me like "enjoy your vacation" which is not only funny but dead wrong as it was NOT paid vacation leave. A friend of mine came back from a planned maternity leave (using unpaid time according to company policy) and attempted to schedule holiday vacation time (from her accrued bucket) about six months later. She was told that because she already had a lot of "vacation time" that year, it wasn't fair to other team members to give her the time off. She also got half a raise due to being out on said "vacation time." HR set the manager straight, but it was stressful for her to deal with. So, don't do that.
posted by handful of rain at 7:02 AM on November 28, 2016

1. My best manager make sure I had good coverage and that the person covering my work did not leave me a giant pile of mess to clean up when I went out on maternity leave and/or returned to the office after maternity leave.
2. My worst manager did not go over maternity benefits with me at all, and did not educate me full on what this meant, how many hours I could use, etc. I was subsequently fired for taking too much leave when I went out on maternity leave and/or returned to the office after maternity leave. (I was young, and had no idea about how FMLA worked and no one bothered to educate me or explain to me exactly how it worked until it was too late.)
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 7:19 AM on November 28, 2016

The best things my manager did related to my maternity leave:
- Be flexible. I had to leave six weeks earlier than expected but the fact that they were good about it made a stressful situation more manageable. Was also flexible about my need to go to what seemed like countless doctor's appointments.
- Leave me alone while I'm on leave. I talked to my manager twice while I was out - once about office stuff that was time sensitive and the other time about a month before I returned.
- Be transparent. My manager said that he hadn't dealt with someone he managed going on maternity leave before so he didn't know HR's ins and outs. He was also good about asking me before telling people, even HR. And at one point, he said, people are starting to ask, maybe it's a good time to tell the other people in our office. That said, I kind of would have preferred that he tell people because it felt like a weird thing to tell people who I shared an office with but otherwise barely worked with and didn't know well. But that's probably just a weird hangup on my part.
- Didn't ask questions or make comments but listened when needed. When I was told I had preeclampsia, I told him and he was like, just keep me posted.

The worst things my manager did related to my maternity leave:
- I could have been more explicit about my needs but sometimes, I was asked to be in a whole day of meetings when I really needed like an hour to pump. I had to leave a meeting early because I was leaking. I hope that I was the only person who noticed but I'm not sure.
- I really wanted to ease back in to work by coming back a few days a week at first but that seemed too complicated and crazy to explain, though I think that would have been helpful.

Things I wish my manager would have done related to maternity leave:
- I was still a newish employee so I had a lot of anxiety related to my leave and felt like my requests were unreasonable impositions. I heard horror stories of people finding that their job disappeared while they were on leave and I was really worried about that. For that reason, it would have been really helpful for my manager to spell things out for me during my pregnancy and return. For example, at one point, my doctor wanted to put me on bed rest. I had a hard time dealing with the idea of going on bed rest independent of the impact it would have had on my work but it would have been really nice if my manager had said, if you need to go on bed rest, that's okay; if you need to take more time for leave, that's okay.
- Similarly, it would have been nice if my boss had said, if you need time for appointments and such, that's fine, just let me know when and we'll work it out. Again, I'm sure my colleagues would have been helpful if I had asked and I just felt a little uncomfortable about asking because I was relatively new. But in addition to doctor's appointments, I needed to make time to check out daycares and find a pediatrician. I ended up not really doing either of those things and while it has worked out, I would have felt more comfortable had I had that opportunity knowing we'd deal with the scheduling issues. And that's stuff that's great to do earlier in pregnancy rather than later. In my case, I found out I had preeclampsia before I had picked out a daycare so I got to check out one before I had my daughter. That was not ideal.
- I understand the need to have a pregnant employee move off of important projects but again, as a newish employee, I was worried that my responsibilities were being taken away. So maybe if you can put a pregnant employee on a task or project that's important but not urgent. That would have been great.
- I realize that this is really petty and lame and stupid but I was kind of hoping for flowers? I work for a large organization and I feel like there's a policy somewhere that says we send flowers for certain occasions. I swear I'm not making this up and I felt like that was the kind of thing that my manager just didn't know about.

Not really in either of these categories but when my office was moved, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had a mini refrigerator which made storing breast milk after pumping less stressful.
posted by kat518 at 7:52 AM on November 28, 2016

I haven't seen it said yet, but one of the best things my manager did was to sit down with me and go over the differences between FMLA leave, paid parental leave, temporary disability leave, variations on the above depending on the type of birth, and how we were going to patch it all together to get me the most leave at the best pay possible. We also discussed solutions for if I wanted or needed to extend leave on an unpaid basis. Knowing exactly what was what helped quite a bit.
posted by Liesl at 7:58 AM on November 28, 2016

One of my managers told me on my first day back after maternity leave that I would be spending the following week out of town, doing field work that literally anyone else could have done. She made a point of telling me that I could decline to go if I wanted to, but the company was going through layoffs at the time and they didn't have any other billable work for me. Occasional travel was part of my job at the time, but the timing of this trip felt cruel. I did a lot of pumping in airport bathrooms and crying, and my poor husband somehow got through the week of working full-time and caring for a colicky 14-week-old who only slept for 2 hours at a time. I felt like it significantly damaged my relationship with that manager, and to be honest with my other manager too, who knew the situation and did nothing. (Happy to say I no longer work there, and my current job does not require me to travel!)
posted by beandip at 10:26 AM on November 28, 2016

I’ve only had one child, so this is all the same manager:

Good: Our state (MA) guaranteed an 8 week leave, and I was not eligible for FMLA but he let me take 14 weeks (unpaid, but with my health insurance covered). He also allowed me to come back part time. I was never hassled about pumping breaks (I did try to be as efficient as possible and used my lunch time for the longer session).

Bad: I was pumping in a restroom. Single occupant, clean, but still a restroom. Also bad, there was a very, very obvious bias in flexibility toward parents. This was in my favor after I had a child, but it was unfair and caused some resentment.
posted by Kriesa at 11:25 AM on November 28, 2016

Best things:

- When I returned from maternity leave, I asked my manager if I could work one day per week from home to have more flexibility with scheduling things. I told them (truthfully) that this would be a big help for me to keep up my productivity. They said yes, no problem.
- My workplace has recommendations for reduced workload for people returning from maternity leave (for a few months). My manager actually let *me* decide which things I wanted to do at 100% level after returning and which I wanted to do at a lower intensity for a while.
- Happened to a friend who recently had twins: friend sometimes falls asleep for a few minutes at the desk in the afternoon, because, twins. Boss came in one afternoon, saw friend sleeping, quietly walked out again and came back an hour later. (Boss has kids as well.)

Worst thing (actually didn't happen to me, but a colleague with a different boss):

- friend was not recommended for a promotion, because "obviously" she would now want to work at a reduced pace.
posted by CompanionCube at 12:20 PM on November 28, 2016

Several people have been pregnant in my office. Things we've done:

Believed every woman when she said she was coming back to work after maternity, had sort of an office conversation and strategy session (we're a small office) to figure out how we as an office were going to handle the leave, rather than making the expectant parent figure it out on their own, bought separate mini fridge for office to breast milk, rescheduled staff meeting to specifically not overlap with pumping time, provided door closed quiet space for pumping, did work at home for about 4 weeks before birth, did part time FLMA/work at home after birth to let parent stretch out transition, and do things like get up to speed from home, did part time work from home (say, coming in 3 hours a week) for a few weeks to handle adjustments. Let parents call into staff meeting with liberal use of mute button, gave a 12 month grace period after return, sort of "you don't need to explain every single time you're going home or need to stay home because you only got 2 hours of sleep, etc., just update the staff on your availability", work one day at home per week, politely made allowances for occasions of rambling due to exhaustion, by just saying "foggy brain?", party/gift/welcome back! thing, hired a temp to take over some tasks, let parents return 70% time, and use the other 30% for part time consulting help, let parents take comp time to bank some days to handle the sleep schedule thing, let the one mom who decided not to return work from home on projects for a few extra weeks to manage transition more smoothly/let them make a little more money, and work one day into a new month to let her be eligible for health care for the rest of the month.

But we've also made these accommodations for other fmla issues, like elder care, and individual staff's own health issues (reschedule staff meeting around a staff person's chemo appt, for example), which fortunately has curtailed any hostility.
posted by anitanita at 10:39 PM on November 30, 2016

OH! I remembered another thing. Don't celebrate or have a party for one baby and ignore other babies who eventually come along. If you throw a little party or give an office gift for one expecting couple, please be prepared to do the same for future babies.

I had two babies, which weren't acknowledged by any group shindig. Which is fine in itself; I didn't expect it. A couple years later, another woman had a baby and people went all out collecting money and giving her a nice gift and cake. She's nice and all, and very deserving of accolades, but I felt supremely shitty and secretly did not participate in the gift.
posted by Liesl at 10:41 AM on December 1, 2016

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