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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Boss Going on Maternity Leave? Make it Work for You

So your boss or co-worker is headed out on maternity leave for a few months. If you think about it, it’s an exciting time—it’s the perfect chance for you to step in for some of the bigger tasks that you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to and prove to the higher-ups what you’re capable of handling. Plus, if you pick up the extra slack and carry it well, you can potentially set yourself up for some major career growth, like a bonus, a salary bump, or even a promotion.

All it takes is a little planning and the right positioning. So as your boss is preparing to head out the door, here’s how to make the situation work for you.

1. Be Ready and Willing

Early on, when your boss starts talking about her leave, make it clear to her that you are willing to “go above and beyond your job description to make her time away easier,” says Allison O’Kelly, founder and CEO of Mom Corps.

Expressing this sentiment will not only be music to her ears, but it’s also a great jumping off point to hash out your questions, get organized, and start communicating about what needs to be done.

2. Don’t Wait for Assignments

On that note, once you’ve had this initial conversation, don’t wait for her to delegate your tasks. Review what’s currently on your plate as well as her higher-level duties, and think about what you can do to help. “Propose ways you could extend your specific expertise and skills to take on additional responsibilities,” O’Kelly recommends. “Offer some specific tasks that you can take on that she is usually responsible for, like preparing end-of-month reports or organizing and heading up meetings.”

And if there are any areas you’d particularly like to grow your skills in or tasks you’d really like to take on, don’t be shy about asking.

3. Be Diplomatic

That said, “be mindful not to come across like you are trying to move into her position the minute she steps out the door,” O’Kelly recommends. “If you don’t express your intentions and ideas in the right way, your boss will likely feel threatened and put up defenses.”

For instance, always consult with her before making any decisions prior to her departure. Rather than stepping on her toes, step up and make suggestions from the sidelines. Reinforce that this is a team effort by using “we” instead of “I.”

Another good rule of thumb for avoiding having your pregnant boss view you as a threat is to trust your instincts. “If you sense any resistance,” says O’Kelly, “know when to walk away.”

4. Keep Track of Your Accomplishments

Once you’ve agreed upon the tasks you’ll take over, create a new list on Evernote or Pages (cloud apps like these are awesome because you can access them anywhere). Write down all the major accomplishments and tasks that you plan to have completed by the end of her maternity leave, and cross them out as you do them. And, of course, add any other projects or tasks that come up along the way!

Even if she is planning to check in with you throughout her leave, it’ll be helpful to have a tangible list of your accomplishments to show her when she gets back. (Maybe after you ask her how she is and ask to see adorable baby photos, of course.) Bonus: This list is also killer ammunition to carry the next time you make a case for a higher salary or promotion during your next performance review.

5. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

Though this is an exciting time, be careful not to burn yourself out. Taking on a bunch of new responsibilities and then not being able to handle them is only going to be counterproductive.

The key to juggling your new responsibilities effectively is communicating well and staying organized, says Elizabeth Lyons, marketing director at ArchPoint Consulting, who is seven months pregnant and currently prepping for maternity leave. When we asked her about her expectations for a project manager who will be stepping in to pick up the slack, she replied, “She will excel as long as she prioritizes the big issues and asks for help from other company resources when necessary.”

Before D-Day, track down all the resources you might need. (You might even want to ask your boss, “If I have trouble on this task, who should I go to?”) It’s better to swallow your pride and ask for help on projects you’re unsure about than to pretend like you have it all together.

It’s not every day that an opportunity to step up will fall in your lap. So, when your boss is prepping for maternity leave, take advantage of it by going above and beyond, increasing your value to the team, and building trust with your boss. Of course, this will mean a lot more work over the next few months, but if you play your cards right, it will pay off come performance review season!

Photo of pregnant boss courtesy of Shutterstock.