Managing Your Maternity Leave

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When your leave ends

Work Options to Consider When Your Maternity Leave Ends
Now is the time to think about your working arrangements after you return from leave and to discuss the possibilities with your employer. Many alternatives are possible, although your particular job may not be adaptable to some of them. For example:
  • Return gradually—This is a good option if you're breast-feeding. You might work fewer days a week or shorter hours each day and gradually increase your hours as your child-care responsibilities lessen.
  • Bring your baby to work—This option may offer a temporary solution to your child-care problems if you cannot get an extension and have to go back to work full time and your boss finds you indispensable. You can do this if your workplace is somewhat private with a minimum of public contact. Because your infant will be sleeping most of the time, it shouldn't interfere with your work. The trick is to learn how to juggle those times when both your baby and your work need attention.
  • Leave of absence or sabbatical—If you want to take off a much longer period of time but be assured you'll be able to come back to a job, inquire into these possibilities.
  • Trade-offs—If your job requires much traveling, you may be able to trade with an associate until you're ready for full-time work. While your associate is on the road, you could be picking up the slack in the office.
  • Job sharing—This method allows two people to share the duties of one job. It would work well with another mother, or perhaps a coworker who wants to start semi-retirement. It has advantages for working mothers and for employers who can then keep two valuable employees. Studies have shown that productivity rises under such circumstances, because each jobsharer produces more than 50 percent of the work, and that the turnover rate is lower. Benefits are shared too. To find someone to share with, ask the personnel department if they know of others. Try placements offices of nearby colleges and universities, or employment agencies. Or place an ad in the company or local newspaper.
  • Flextime or flexible scheduling—You would still work a full job under this arrangement, but your hours would be at more convenient times. This means that the schedule changes from day-to-day or week-to-week, or it can mean that the hours are fixed but are not standard. It might permit you to share some of the child care with your partner or to work around your breast-feeding schedule. The drawback is that the rest of the world is still working nine to five. The array of flextime options include:

    • Flexihour: Employee selects starting time.
    • Gliding schedule: Within blocks of time, employee may vary hours without prior notifications or approval.
    • Variable time: Employee must be present for a core time five days a week but may otherwise vary length of workday or workweek.
    • Maxiflex: Similar to variable time, except that core time is scheduled on fewer days.
    • Compressed work week—Full-time employees may work four ten-hour days a week; eight nine-hour days plus one eight-hour day over two weeks; or a week of five nine-hour days followed by a week of four nine-hour days with a day off every other week.
    • Voluntary reduced time—V-time is an option that enables employees to reduce their pay and work time by 5 to 50 percent for a specified period—usually six to twelve months. Workers retain their benefits and seniority status on a prorated basis. Companies have begun offering this option to help employees meet family, personal, or schooling needs, as well as offering it as an alternative to layoffs.
    • Telecommuting—This allows you the comforts of home and a saving in expenses while communicating with your office through a computer, phone, and fax. You could vary your schedule as it suits you, working in the office some days or just going in for meetings. Regular weekly appearances are important to avoid "out of sight/out of mind," as well as the isolation factor. In many cases, telecommuters keep their benefits, salary, and advancement opportunities. Studies have shown that telecommuting increases productivity 20 to 60 percent and decreases turnover rate. You must set up a separate work area where nothing will be disturbed and have a caregiver for your baby. An answer machine on a separate business number or a business cell phone could take your calls when you are busy.
    • Part-time work—(Sometimes called a "slightly shortened workday") Fewer than thirty-five hours per week, part-week or part-day .You and your employer would have to agree on your workload and who would handle the balance. Remember that your costs would be lower to balance the reduction in pay. You need to learn whether your benefits would continue under such an arrangement. And you need to think about what effect it would have on your status at work. It might be better to find part-time work in another place. The drawbacks page 309. are that you would be working for an hourly wage and probably would not have benefits.
    • Trade-pay-for-time—The next time you negotiate a pay raise, or are offered one at your performance review, acknowledge your employer's recognition of your performance and contribution to the company, then inform him that you'd like to trade your pay raise for time instead. For example, a 10 percent raise would be traded for four hours off each week. In some cases, you can negotiate more time than money (e.g., a 7 percent raise is traded for 10 percent time off).
    • Temporary work—This might be an answer for an interim period.
    • Self-employment—Freelancing or consulting offers you flexibility, but you must have flexible child care, too, because you never know when you're going to be working. A drop-in child-care center would be an advantage or a baby-sitter who's on call. Another advantage would be your freedom to do things, such as take your baby to the doctor.
Keep in mind that these elements can be combined: Flextime schedules can be full-time or part-time; part-time workers might also telecommute, and one job-share partner might work a compressed schedule to make physical room for the other partner. You can also propose a short-term, part-time schedule that only lasts two months. For more ideas, see When Your Job and Motherhood Don't Mix.

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© 2005 by Marla Schram Schwartz. Excerpted from The Working Woman's Baby Planner with permission of its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

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