Careers advice: Preparing for maternity, paternity or parental leave

Written by: Sara Burton
Published on: 12 Jun 2014

baby feet

It seems to be the time of year for maternity leave so there are lots of mums-to-be preparing to hand over the reins for typically six to 12 months while attending to other matters. 

Not only this, but with paternity and parental leave rights extending in the last few years, it is becoming more common for dads to be taking time out too. 

There are plenty of articles and information available on rights and benefits at this time, and of course you must also consider your own employer’s policies in this regard - but what about the practicalities of walking away from your role for this period of time?

Handing over projects? This is the most straightforward of your tasks, as they usually have defined processes and timescales already. Whether it be handling applications, reviewing policy or devising strategy you should have in mind the most appropriate individual(s) to take this on. Hopefully arrangements have been made to cover your leave either internally or by hiring an interim and it should be agreed who will be taking on what projects as soon as possible. That’s not to say that you have to hand it over straight away, rather this can be planned process as certain milestones are reached and you will move from project owner, to handover, to advisor prior to your departure. Ideally, you wouldn’t still be “hands on” at the point of leaving.

Cultivating new relationships? Whether you are working in a consultancy with your own client list, in the public sector dealing with developers and the public or working with a housebuilder or developer, managing the handover of external relationships is key. There is a great danger in thinking “X will only ever deal with me”. Actually, with the right handover, X will be more than happy to deal with one of your colleagues and indeed may introduce them to Y and Z as well. The point is this should be seen as an opportunity by all to build on existing relationships, not to mothball your personal relationships during your time off.

Management responsibilities? Whether you are formally managing teams or individuals or perhaps have informal responsibility for overseeing the work of others, your colleagues will want to know that all will be well while you are away. This is not so much about the practicalities that can be readily delegated, such as weekly meetings to be led by a senior colleague. It is giving comfort to your team that their career development, training and profile will continue in your absence. For junior team members, this can be as straightforward as having a new mentor, training courses booked and appraisals diarised during your period of absence. For more senior team members, it can be the reassurance that their interim manager will afford them the same level of trust that you do. Meeting on a 1-2-1 basis with your team and asking what concerns they have about your leave well before you go will be an important foundation to ensuring a stable team in your absence.

All that other stuff? Everyone has things that form a large knowledge bank that are hard to categorise and aren’t necessarily part of your formal role. Whether it’s you who remembers to cancel the milk on a bank holiday Monday, organises the team Christmas party or knows what random combination of buttons stop the fire alarm going off, these are the things you will really be missed for! An easy way to discover what you are the “go to” person for is to keep a note over a 2-4 week period of all the queries you get asked or things you do without thinking. This will produce an effective list to be delegated to others before you go….some of which you may be glad to be rid of on a permanent basis!

Experience shows that with a good handover, it is easier to arrange a good handback when you return. Yes, things will have changed - projects will have been completed, colleagues become chartered and new clients will be on board – but all of this will provide you with fresh opportunity as a returning to work parent.

Sara Burton, town planning and built environment, Cobalt Recruitment