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Announcing Your Pregnancy at Work
Good relations between employer and employee and among coworkers are significant factors in any job. You can't get your work done as promptly and efficiently with a cloud of resentment and anger hanging over your head. For some reason, a pregnant woman raises some people's hackles, especially the boss's, who sometimes feels that becoming pregnant somehow indicates a lack of devotion to the job. Announcing your condition must be approached, in many cases, with caution.
Telling the Boss You're Pregnant
Two people have to feel reassured after you break the news that you're pregnantyou and your supervisor. You're worried about the safety of your expected child, the financial stability of your family, and your own self-esteem, which is often closely tied to your job. Your employer, on the other hand, has other concerns: Will the business suffer? Will you give the same attention to your work with a baby at home to worry about? It's important that you consider the concerns of your employer and follow these suggestions:
FYI: Working Women Come Back to Their Jobs
- Don't announce your pregnancy until after the first trimester, when the risk of miscarriage is much lowerThe longer you wait, the less time there is for office speculation about your future. Don't wait until you show, however, because coworkers are apt to notice first. Of course, if you're suffering from morning sickness, or if you're asked to take on a long-term project, you'll have to explain. Tell close friends at work who can keep your secret and a few select people on the been-there/done-that list who can share strategic advice about how to tell the big cheese.
- Tell your employer nextIt would not be to your benefit to have your boss hear the news from someone else. Your negotiating position could be weakened. So tell your boss after you do your legwork, before you begin to show, and before someone else can. If your employer learns about your pregnancy before you have a chance to tell him, explain that you wanted to get your prenatal test results back first to make sure everything was going well. Then you were going to make an appointment to discuss a rough plan for covering all your responsibilities during your leave.
- Choose your momentPick the least stressful, most convenient time, perhaps a Friday afternoon. Certainly you would never do it before an important event, such as a major stockholder meeting.
- Speak in privateArrange not to be interrupted during the conversation. If you choose a restaurant, make sure it's quiet and low key. Discourage any over-diligent waiter.
- Be positiveBe forthright and optimistic. You want to give the impression that you have everything organized, yet you remain flexible. Never apologize, even if you're aware that you will be leaving your position in the middle of the spring rush, or the fall sales season. Don't say you're sorry. You haven't done anything wrong; you're just having a baby.
- Discuss your pregnancy in a business-like mannerEmphasize the temporary nature of the situation. Underline your enthusiasm for your work and your determination to be as productive as ever.
- Don't discuss maternity leave yetWait awhile and schedule a formal meeting to discuss the details of your leave and your future with the company. In the meantime, contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and your state civil rights commission to find out what your rights are.
- Assume you'll be welcomed backNever ask whether you may come back. Take it for granted that you will (see Managing Your Maternity Leave ).
- Tell coworkersMaking it clear after the initial hoopla and congrats that you're working out a plan for your leave won't leave them in a panic.
- Let customers, clients, and any outside vendors or consultants knowThis can wait, especially if you don't have regular face-to-face meetings with them. Assure them that their needs will be met and any necessary transitions will be handled smoothly.
Studies have shown that almost 90 percent of the women who go on maternity leave eventually return to their jobs. Of those women, 43 percent return within three months.
Making a Smooth Transition
The first step for good workplace relations is to treat your employer and coworkers with respect and understandingbasically, the two most important things you want and need from them during and after your pregnancy. For example:
Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Coworkers
- CooperateDevelop an attitude of mutual support among your peers by pitching in during vacations and sick days.
- ReciprocateAlways be quick to return favors. If someone covers for you when you visit the obstetrician, make sure you make up the time within the next week. Be generous with thanks and appreciation; sometimes a little gift is appropriate. Better yet, build up a bank of favors with your coworkers that you can draw on when needed.
- Don't complain about how you feel or how busy you areNobody wants to listen to someone moan about their situation, especially if they have been given a new, easier work arrangement.
- Stay on top of your workload during your pregnancyDon't get behind. If possible, get ahead on some duties. Never expect an associate to take over some of your work because you're in this new condition.
- Talk things overDiscuss your anticipated leave with your colleagues and address any questions, or problems, they may have. Remember, they may not be looking forward to the changes when you're absent. Keep any doubts about returning after your leave to yourself. Don't forget to let contacts and clients know when you'll be leaving and who'll be handling your work while you re away.
- Change your voice mail message and reroute your mailFind out who will be handling your mail while you're gone. When recording your out-of-office voice mail message, include the length of your absence, the approximate date you expect to return, and the name and number of the person(s) covering for you. Set up an automatic email reply with the same information.
- Train your replacement wellDon't wait until the last minute to discuss your replacement. Find out if you're expected to find and train him. If your colleagues are expected to pitch in and help, start long-term projects before you leave and hand off smaller tasks to other workers. Never withhold any information from your substitute out of anxiety about being replaced. When you've trained that person very well, the flow of work will not be interrupted, and you will get the credit.
- Trust your replacementOnce you have delegated your work or trained your replacement, be prepared to let her do the job. If you continually call or pop into the office unannounced attempting to check up on her, you could cause confusion and resentment.
- Put your desk in orderOrganize your files, reports, and other material that will be needed while you're away. Create a clearly labeled folder with contact information, file locations, and other relevant information.
- Clean your virtual deskPlan to leave a tidy computer behind you, particularly if supervisors and coworkers will have access to it while you're on leave. Remove any personal files and even remotely inappropriate documents. Make sure your files your coworkers will need during your absence are easy to access and understand. Create a master list detailing how your files are organized and make a hard copy of this master list. Make copies of important folders and files; back up copies for the workplace on floppies or CD-RW, and make an extra copy you can take home if you need to access it while you're out. Don't forget to pass on your passwords.
- Stay in touchCall once or twice to catch up on the latest office talk. Toward the end of your leave, make arrangements to call in once a week. Be available by cell phone for emergencies. Accept calls from work. Designate a contact person at your office and try to have all office communications go through him at regularly scheduled times to give you and your family as much privacy and rest as possible. Ask that copies of memos, mail, and other important correspondence be sent to you. Let everybody know that you'll be back soon.
Not everyone will be thrilled with the news of your pregnancy. Conflicts between associates stem from many sources; among them is a belief that a working mother will have family problems that conflict with work performance, a feeling of jealousy over perceived special treatment, or a belief that mothers, or expectant mothers, belong in the home. The trick is to try to manage people's reactions and their treatment of you.
Practically speaking, you need your coworkers cooperation to accomplish your job. A hostile associate could cut you out of the loop or forget to give you phone messages with the result that your clients or superiors might begin to think you're unresponsive or worse, incompetent. The time and energy you would devote to such a conflict could be much better spent on improving your production.
The best way to control the situation, as with any management issue, is to be proactive. If you sense any newfound tension, here are some suggestions:
- InvestigateThere's always the possibility that you are at fault. Perhaps you're making errors that someone else has had to correct because you're preoccupied with your pregnancy or approaching parenthood. Or you may have been unintentionally abrupt with coworkers. Ask a trusted colleague to explain what's wrong.
- Clear the airSet up a private meeting with each person involved in the conflict. Approach the discussion in a matter-of-fact, neutral manner. Keep your voice free of emotion, and your coworker might realize that his or her emotions might be intensifying the conflict. You're not there to point fingers or defend your position, but to find a solution to a problem that is disrupting the workplace. State your experience as nonjudgmentally as possible. Then give your colleague a chance to respond without interruption. Bite your tongue if you have to, but listen carefully with respect to the other person's point of view. Demonstrate your willingness to adapt.
- Consult your bossOnly as a last resort should you discuss the matter with your superior. Perhaps an adjustment in your duties will ease the tension. Be careful on this stepit could backfire. The people who are resentful of you now may only harden their attitude if they feel the boss is taking your side.
It is always wiser to avoid conflicts than to try and solve them once they've occurred. And sometimes you just have to accept the things you can't change. Some people may never be easy to deal with. You just have to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of your job and decide which ones outweigh others.
Many pregnant women experience having their tummies rubbed by strangers who do it because they are just unthinking and don't realize they're being rude. Try to understand the point of view or the motivation of the people saying or doing offensive or stupid things. Although a sarcastic response may be on the tip of your tongue, humor mixed with information is usually a more effective approach in the long run.
Be firm with people who are genuinely offensive or whose actions constitute harassment. Ask them politely to stop and tell them it makes you uncomfortable, or gently guide their hands off your belly. You'll have to adjust the response to the situation for example, when it's your boss or an important client but don't snap back. It'll make you look unprofessional. (See Managing Your Maternity Leave)
Here are five ways to say "none of your business" to unsolicited advice:
- That's something my husband/partner/doctor/midwife has already worked out.
- Thank you for your concern.
- I'd rather not talk about it.
- My, that's awfully personal!
- What a question!
© 2005 by Marla Schram Schwartz. Excerpted from The Working Woman's Baby Planner with permission of its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
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