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Navigating the Maternity Journey

What to do if you are a critical member of the team and plan to go on leave

Preparing for maternity leave can be just as stressful as preparing to bring your new baby home from the hospital. Though your world will be up-ended when your baby is born, the work that needs to be completed at the office will continue along, unchanged. With teams losing men and women for up to four months at a time for maternity or paternity leave, an opportunity exists to make sure that team members feel supported, while also ensuring that projects are completed in a timely matter. One of the best ways to solve this problem? Engage highly qualified freelance experts as a way to fill gaps on a team during this time.

Each month, over 273,000 women go on maternity leave. If you’re one of those women, there are thousands of high-quality experts who can help fill in if you take the initiative to find them. Bringing in a freelancer to take over for you while on maternity leave means that you won’t come back to the office to a pile of work, or be greeted by resentful co-workers who’ve had to double their workload in your absence. And, importantly, freelancers can be used to fill in your team, but not add to overall headcount.

Jen Houston navigated this process when she was preparing to welcome her first child while working as the Associate Director for Integrated Marketing at Vanity Fair. Her workload of managing events and marketing programming for the magazine’s advertisers would continue at a fast pace when she was gone. “I knew that I wouldn’t want to spend my maternity leave wondering whether my projects were going according to plan, or worrying that I needed to check in at the office,” Jen says. She enlisted a trusted freelancer to fill in for her for while she was out, and it made for a smooth transition (and peace of mind) for both Jen and her coworkers.

Approaching the task of tracking down reliable talent to fill in while you’re gone can be overwhelming. This is part of the reason why I started my company, Torchlite. Our platform connects marketers and qualified digital marketing freelancers, making accessing, managing and paying freelancers a breeze. Our pre-vetted freelancers do things like manage email campaigns, social and digital advertising campaigns and even writing and design. They are very specialized, and this is the key. Find someone who has the specific skills to do your job — someone who will be able to hit the ground running and will be comfortable in your shoes without you there for guidance.

Once you’ve identified a freelancer, what else can you do to make the maternity leave process as seamless as possible? Allison Robinson, the creator of the Mom Project has a maternity leave checklist that can help:

  1. Plan in advance: Make sure to start planning your maternity leave early. A smooth and thoughtfully planned transition means less work stress so you can focus on what matters.
  2. Give yourself ample time to transition out and back. Allison recommends at least one week overlap pre and post leave, but two is even better.
  3. Provide a “key contact” list so that your freelancer isn’t having to do a lot of guesswork to determine who to reach out to for urgent questions.
  4. Determine the amount of coverage you need. Carve out a work plan to determine what work needs coverage while you’re gone and what can wait.
  5. Actually check out. This one is important: if you can, disable work emails so you don’t “accidentally” find yourself getting sucked into work.

After you’ve made your plan to go out on maternity leave, planning for your re-entry into the office is just as important. Amanda Leet, former Vice President of Marketing at Salesforce and mom to three notes that easing into her return was key. Her transition-back plan included monthly calls while she was on leave so she was kept in the loop, and she spent her first couple of weeks in the office reconnecting with her team by simply scheduling informal coffee talks. “I found it helpful to spend my first days back in the office reconnecting with my peers and direct reports. This provided a better view of current team and company priorities as well as any staffing updates or changes.”

As Amanda became more senior in her organization, she consistently emphasized to employees the importance of taking an active role in supporting team members starting families. “You only have to be one step ahead of someone to mentor them. We often look to senior management to provide examples of how you can successfully return to work after having a baby, but it’s important that employees at every level show how to be successful in balancing career with family,” Amanda notes.

When we support team members during the maternity leave time period, we are also helping mitigate the negative effects of the “mommy gap.” 43% of skilled American women leave the workplace after becoming mothers. If they try to re-enter the workforce after an extended period of time, prospects can be bleak. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, stay-at-home moms are half as likely to get an interview versus those who were laid off. Many of the freelancers I see are coming back into the workforce after having taken their own “mommy gap.” They have the skill set and experience to do the job, but have been drawn to the freelance lifestyle because of the better work-life-balance.

Case-in-point: Since taking her first maternity leave four years ago, Jen Houston has had a second child, and she’s actually become a freelancer herself. She has since filled in for several colleagues on their maternity leaves. “Now that I’m on the freelance side of the equation, I appreciate the opportunity to continue working while also maintaining a flexible schedule to spend time with my children while they’re young.”

Download Allison Robinson’s maternity leave checklist here.

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Susan Marshall, Founding Partner/CEO

Susan Marshall is the CEO of Torchlite Marketing.