I’m 36 weeks and I’d like to be able to return from my maternity leave with a flexible schedule after my baby is born. Any suggestions for how to start this conversation with my boss?”
First, do a little legwork to find out what your company’s policies are when it comes to maternity leave and flexible schedules. In the U.S., larger companies are more likely to have official and clear-cut written policies based on Federal law while companies with fewer than 50 employees are more likely to tailor someone’s leave to the individual (or simply let someone go).
Next, figure out what your ideal schedule would be. Staffing firms and employers generally define flexibility in three ways: time, place and duration. Time flexibility is the hours you work during the day– 9 to 5, midnight to 8 a.m., et cetera. Place flexibility is where you do your work– can you ‘telecommute’ some or all of the time, or do you need to be on-site? and durational flexibility refers to seasonal or part-time contracts. You could ask for any combination of the above: returning part-time, returning to do short-term projects, telecommuting some or part of the work day or week. What’s best for you will depend on what kind of childcare you can arrange during work hours.
Then consider what kind of arrangement would work for your boss and company in order to hone your pitch. If you need to be in the office for certain hours but you’re hoping to work from home certain days propose how your duties would be covered. Or if your job is more project-based could you work from home and check in at certain intervals? Have a plan B or C if your boss rejects your first proposal. (Warning: never attempt to work from home without childcare and workspace away from the baby– it’s simply impossible without neglecting the child or the job).
When you’re ready to have your conversation –and if you’re 36 weeks get ready soon!– ask your boss for some time to talk in private. Write down what you plan to say if you’re nervous. Start by emphasizing how much you enjoy your job and want to continue working there. Then ask if she would be willing to consider a one- or two- week trial run of an arrangement such as x, y or z. Assure her you don’t need an answer right away, she can take time to think it over.
Keep in mind, the birth and the newborn phase don’t always go according to plan: you or baby could experience complications that keep you out of work for longer than you’d planned, childcare could fall through, you could decide that you don’t want to go back to work after all but don’t want to harm your chances of a good recommendation later. All sorts of things could happen, so don’t make any solemn promises to begin some super-important project exactly 6 weeks after delivery. Also don’t commit to doing any kind of work during your official leave: you won’t have the energy, we promise. But do make sure your boss your updated contact information outside of work so when you go on leave she can contact you with any last-minute questions.