There are a lot of difficult conversations that you’ll have to have over the course of your working life, but if you’re a women who plans to have children, telling your boss that you’re pregnant for the first time can be stressful.
How to explain why you haven’t been yourself lately, or figure out who will cover for you when you’re on maternity leave? And what about working a modified schedule when you return? For this week’s reader question we turn to business and leadership professor Evelyn Williams.
I’m almost three months pregnant and I don’t know how to tell my boss.
It’s been really difficult to keep it a secret for the past couple months with being so exhausted and feeling sick and leaving early for doctor’s appointments, so I should definitely explain to my boss why my behavior has been different.
Our company doesn’t have a paid maternity leave policy, but I still plan to take the full 12 (unpaid) weeks allowed by law. There are other people in the office that have kids, but no one has been pregnant since I’ve been here (just over a year), so I don’t know how they broke the news or worked out a plan for who covered for them.
I manage a team of three and everyone here is already stretched pretty thin so I don’t know what they’ll do when I’m out for three months. I am also hoping to start working from home half the week after I return from leave–is that something I should broach now or wait until after the baby is born? I was planning to bring up the subject of a raise and promotion before I got pregnant–is that off the table now?
This whole thing seems like such an uncomfortable conversation any guidance in how to bring it up would be helpful.
Imagine just for a moment that one of your best managers has recently appeared disengaged and unprepared at meetings. Imagine that he started to leave early for several unexplained doctor’s appointments and in the mornings, he had this sickly pallor, and looked like he was going to be violently ill. You had previously been thinking about promoting him, because his work has been stellar up until the past few months. You don’t want to pry, but you really need every hand on deck.
While I don’t know all the details of your situation, any time you enter into a negotiation, you need to think about the other person’s perspective as well as your own–and this may be what’s going through the employer’s mind right now. Granted, I use a male in the scenario, but it gets you thinking a little differently about the employer’s perspective–more objectively and less emotionally. You need to think objectively about your employer’s needs–and rather than consider them the enemy–think about it as if you want to give them the very best outcomes possible. Then see if you can meet their interests as well as your own.
Right now your employer may be wondering why you haven’t been your normal work self–so the sooner you can have this conversation the better. But before you enter into the conversation, go talk to other seasoned managers in your network that are outside the company to get a fresh perspective. How will your employer fill your very capable shoes for three months? And how will your employees manage without their stellar boss at the helm? And are you definitely planning on coming back to work after your three month leave or are you undecided? Moreover, who will take care of the baby while you are “working” at home part-time?
These are just a few of the questions you should have thoughtful answers for before you head into this discussion with your employer. Take a walk in your employer’s shoes and you’ll position yourself better for a win-win negotiation.
Evelyn Williams is a professor of practice at the Business School and the F.M. Kirby Foundation chair of leadership development at Wake Forest University. She previously taught leadership at Stanford University’s School of Business and at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
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