The maternity leave dilemma

By February 13, 2013Hiring & Recruiting
Hiring & Recruiting

Babies make everyone happy —unless you are the person trying to fill a maternity leave contract.

There are lots of resources around for employees about how to deal with maternity leave professionally, but what about the other side? Employers are legally required to offer women (or Dad’s) their time off and not have them worry about their jobs upon their return. But the truth is that maternity leave can be a tricky inconvenience.

So what can you do if you’re faced with temporarily replacing one of your best employees? Here are some important points to consider, and tips on how to ease the transition.

Consider the role. Some roles are inherently more difficult to fill. Certain industries frequently hire contract roles, for example IT, online publishing, translation or customer service. Other industries definitely do not. You should have a good idea from the very beginning of how difficult a job this will be.

Ask your employee for contacts. Talk to the person leaving about their contacts. Seriously. Companies are often reluctant to do this, but if you’ve already hired a top-notch person, it is very likely they might know somebody else with a similar background and working style.

Seniority matters. Upper level management positions are the hardest to fill, and nowadays with women having babies well into their 40’s, you might just find yourself trying to fill that senior director role. If that’s the case, just mentally prepare yourself for a longer, tougher search.

Beware the domino effect. Particularly for temporarily filling senior roles, companies end up experiencing ‘the domino effect’, which means they shift the some of that person’s responsibility onto the person below them, and some of that person’s onto the next lowest person, and so on. While this does make for an easy transition in the beginning, it can cause potential problems once mom returns to work expecting all her responsibility back.

Think about the long-term employee engagement effects. Yes, it can be a pain. But consider the long-term effects of that talented employee after coming back from a successful maternity leave. Happy employees are loyal, feel valued, and work harder. Plus, having a reputation as a family-friendly workplace helps attract more qualified candidates.

Not hiring a replacement? Don’t expect a happy workforce. I once worked in an office where instead of hiring someone to replace a marketing coordinator going on maternity leave, the duties were spread out amongst the other members of the marketing team. That might sound logical as a temporary solution, but it wore off pretty quickly. It also gave the woman at home a pretty clear idea about the value of her job. Not surprisingly, she left the company shortly after her return. If you want to keep everyone happy on the job, don’t expect people to “manage” while someone is off for an extended period of time.

Make the effort to find the right person. Personally I’m totally baffled by this, but a number of articles, such as this investigation by Canadian Business, suggest that women often change their minds about the length of time they will be at home, or don’t return to work at all. As unlikely as this may seem to me, it’s one more reason to put the effort into finding the right replacement. Think of it as an insurance policy.

Stay in contact.
Just because a person is at home with a baby doesn’t mean they can’t be contacted. Keeping an open dialogue with your employee, and encouraging one between them and their replacement, will circumvent potential problems and keep them feeling like part of the team.

Be a company where people want to work. So maybe finding a top candidate willing to take a contract isn’t the easiest thing in the world. But if you have a strong employer brand, and are known as a place where people want to work, that’s going to get a lot easier. When people want to get their foot in the door, you’ll be in a much stronger position to find someone great, even for a temporary role.

What else have you found helpful  when it comes to dealing with maternity leave? Tell us your experiences!

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