7 Things You Need To Do to Prepare for Maternity Leave
After three kids – and three maternity leaves – I’ve got preparing for maternity leave down to a science. There are certain things that you can do prior to maternity leave to make your leave (and your subsequent return) easier on everyone – your employer, your replacement, and you.
Preparing for maternity leave will, of course, look different for all of us. A lot will vary based on your role, the length of your leave, and your maternity leave coverage (or lack thereof). I’m a lawyer, and have had year long maternity leaves (I’m in Canada), so my advice is based on that experience. However, much of the advice will be applicable to a shorter (or longer) maternity leave, and a different work environment.
1. Start early
Start to prepare for maternity leave early. In the months leading up to your leave, keep a running list of job duties and projects that will need to be handed off. This will help ensure that (a) nothing gets missed, and (b) you’re not frantically trying to do this at the last minute.
Meet with your manager or supervisor to determine how your responsibilities will be allocated when you’re on leave. Will a replacement be hired, or will your tasks be split among your co-workers? If a replacement is being hired, try to arrange for at least a couple of weeks of overlap. Babies are unpredictable and your leave date is anything but set in stone; this will give you an opportunity to train your replacement and make the transition as seamless as possible.
2. Document everything for your replacement
As your maternity leave approaches, document everything that you will be handing off. Make sure your replacement knows the status of each file or project, any important dates, and the key contacts. Ensure that all files are up to date, and your replacement can easily locate previous correspondence and notes.
If an external replacement has been hired, give them the background that will make stepping into your role easier. Document your filing system, any filing conventions that you use, and any programs they will need to work with. Not only will you set them up for success, you’ll (hopefully!) make your return to work at the end of your leave smoother as well.
3. Write a memo to yourself
In addition to any memos that I prepare for those covering my maternity leave, I always prepare a memo to myself as well. In this memo, I record all of the little things that are easy to forget, such as usernames, password hints, and administrative procedures. These are second-nature when you’re at work every day, but easily forgotten over the course of a maternity leave.
I just recently returned to work after my third maternity leave, and as I sat there struggling to remember my login ID on Day #1, I was SO happy I had done this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve referred to this memo (and the memo I prepared for my replacement) over the first couple of weeks – it’s amazing what you can forget over the course of a year!
4. Don’t forget the administrative details
Do you need to notify your professional organization of your leave, or change your status? Are there any continuing education requirements that you need to fulfill before your leave?
What is the timeline for adding baby to your benefits plan (or your spouse’s benefits, if applicable)? Often, you only have a short window after the birth to add baby to your extended health and dental plan. Record this deadline in your personal calendar now, and schedule multiple reminders – this is easy to forget when you’re preoccupied with a new baby. While you’re at it, have your spouse schedule reminders to add baby to their benefits program as well (if applicable).
5. Draw a line in the sand
If possible, arrange for your replacement to take over before you’re out of the office. Set a date after which you are not taking on any new files. This will give you a chance to wrap up any existing matters that you can, and to be available to bring your replacement up to speed. Having a bit of overlap makes the transition smoother for everyone.
6. Prepare for the unexpected
While you may intend to work up until a certain date, babies will come when they’re ready. In the final weeks leaving up to each of my maternity leaves, I left the office every day prepared not to come back. Post-its and status memos (updated daily) become your best friend – you want to make it as easy as possible for somebody to step into your shoes if need be.
7. Exhale and let it go
You’ve organized, you’ve documented, you’ve briefed the appropriate people. You’ve done everything you can to make your maternity leave and your transition out of the office as seamless as possible for your employer.
Now? Let it go. You’re about to embark on your most important project to date. Now is the time to focus on you, and the anticipation and excitement of meeting your new little one!