The day you find out you’re pregnant may be the best day of your life. Then you get the joy of sharing the exciting news with the people in your life: your partner, your parents, your family, your friends … and your boss. And that last one is often the trickiest.
While you’re probably over the moon about the soon-to-be new addition, your boss may not feel quite the same way. Your maternity leave will impact your job responsibilities, your co-workers and possibly your company’s bottom line.
This conversation with your employer is a difficult one to navigate. There are lots of things to think about, discuss and plan for. Set the tone by going in prepared and professional.
Here are 11 tips on common mistakes women make and what not to do when breaking the news that you’re expecting:
Know your rights before you walk into your boss’s office. The US is the only developed country that doesn’t have mandated paid maternity leave — which is very sad — but you may be entitled to some paid or unpaid time off. Our maternity leave laws vary from state to state and are often impacted by size of company and length of employment. You should know your legal rights prior to having a sit-down with your employer, so you aren’t asking for leave, you’re taking what you deserve.
Read up on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), your state laws, your company’s handbook and your employment contract to see what you’re entitled to. Can you use sick leave or vacation days? Look at your budget and bank account to figure out how long you can stay home.
If you’re a nanny, caregiver, small-business owner or freelancer, the best way to get some type of maternity leave benefit is by purchasing an individual short-term disability insurance policy through an insurance carrier. You may also be able to get it through your employer’s disability insurance or family leave insurance claim, but only California, Hawaii, Rhode Island and New Jersey currently require this benefit — and you have to be paid over the table. Learn about the other benefits of paying taxes when you’re a caregiver.
2. “You probably saw my Facebook update”
Don’t let your boss find out your good news from the gossipy mailroom clerk or someone posting a pregnancy meme on your Facebook page (in fact, if anyone at work is your friend on social media, tell your boss as soon as you tell the outside world). This will show a lack of courtesy, respect and professionalism.
3. “Sorry, my bump knocked over your family photo”
Don’t wait so long that it’s really obvious (even though it seems obvious to you at week four, no one else has any idea your pants don’t fit). “If this is a place you want to stay and grow, you want to look out for your employers and be perceived as a team player” advises Judi Cinéas, LCSW, therapist and author. But you also need to feel comfortable sharing the news. And that might take more than 12 weeks. Keep in mind that the FMLA requires you to give your employer at least 30 days’ notice if you plan on taking any unpaid family time.
4. “I have bad news”
Don’t set this conversation up with negativity. While the conversation is stressful, this isn’t bad news. And it can stress you out if you think others will see it that way. Remind yourself that this is fantastic and working women have babies every day. Then, calmly make an appointment with HR, your direct supervisor or with the person who will be most impacted. And start it out that you have something exciting to share.
If you’re super stressed, take a few moments before the meeting to calm yourself with prenatal yoga, breathing exercises or a pep talk with someone you trust. Remember, all that stress isn’t good for you or your baby.
5. “Sorry to add this to your Monday … “
“Don’t have the conversation on stressful days,” recommends Cinéas. “If you know of specific days that are super busy, like deadline dates, Mondays or Fridays, avoid scheduling the conversation at those times.
6. “I might not come back”
Even if this is true, don’t say it on the same day you announce your pregnancy. “Anticipate what your employer’s fears are and be prepared to mitigate them from the outset,” suggests career expert and mom, Nicole Williams.
Even if you have a great relationship with your boss, be prepared for them to have concerns and to ask questions about your workflow and job responsibilities in your absence. Will you return to work afterwards? How much maternity leave will you need? How will your projects be covered? Be proud of your pregnancy and have your answers ready. Stay helpful and optimistic. You might be thinking of getting a new job or staying home longer than they’ll allow, but these things can be discussed later. And being professional and on top of their concerns will help them give you a good reference in the future.
7. “Good luck with that disaster”
While you might be thinking it, you don’t want your supervisor to think you’re doing a happy dance on your way out the door. Let them know that you’ll have a plan in place that addresses your work responsibilities, including how client interactions or projects will be handled before you leave and in your absence. Take the pressure off your boss by making suggestions, writing out a work plan or manual that can be referred to while you’re gone and offering to call in or visit the office during your leave.
“Have solutions in mind before you sit down with your boss,” recommends Williams, but you don’t have to have them written down until a month before your due date.
Allison O’Kelly, founder of Corps Team, a staffing company, agrees: “Share how you’re going to transition your duties, and be available occasionally during your leave to help answer any questions those covering your position may have.”
8. “Do you happen to know a nanny?”
You might still be figuring out your child care plans, but when you first tell your boss your pregnant, all she wants to know is that you plan on coming back and have care plans in progress.
This is also a good time to find out what child care benefits your company offers. Read about the 10 Things to Ask HR for Today
9. “Did you get my email?”
Even if you dread having the conversation in person, be professional way and tackle it head-on. The goal is to create a win-win situation for both you and your employer — email or a phone call won’t do the trick.
10. “Sure, I can still carry heavy boxes”
As much as you might want to pretend like nothing has changed — it has. And there are work safety concerns for you and your baby that you need to focus on, as soon as possible. Know your work environment. If you’re exposed to toxins, chemicals or substances of any kind which might jeopardize your pregnancy, or if you’re in a physically demanding job that might do the same, put safety first.
“Don’t put yourself or your baby in a potentially dangerous position at work,” says Williams. If you need to address your pregnancy concerns early on with your employer, come prepared with suggestions for alternate responsibilities or additional safeguards you can take until your maternity leave begins, as well as suggestions for tackling your current responsibilities.
11. “My baby and I can’t take that project”
Don’t leave before you leave. This is advice from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the best-seller “Lean In.” She encourages women to not take a backseat in their jobs before they become pregnant as they plan for a future family. This same advice holds true for the time during your pregnancy.
You may be pregnant, but you’re still the same rock star you were before. Once you announce the big arrival, don’t use it as an excuse to step back from your responsibilities. Barring medical reasons, continue to show your employer how amazing you are. Keep taking on projects and being successful — it will remind your colleagues how valuable you are, with and without a baby bump.
Like all other life experiences, pregnancy is a combination of ups, downs and in-betweens. In the real world, juggling motherhood and employment is challenging, but the solutions are yours to make and based upon the plans you decide will work best for your future, family and career.
Get more tips on work-life integration and family workplace benefits.