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Thoughts on maternity leave from a mother-manager.

Many coworkers are affected by a laboratorian's maternity leave, especially when the mother-to-be is a supervisor.

Many of the best employees in the medical laboratory are of reproductive age, roughly ages 21 through 45, for half their careers. A considerable number go on maternity leave and then return. It is our job as managers to make their leaves as anxiety-free as possible without allowing productivity in the lab to decline.

When the pregnant employee is a bench technologist, preparing for her departure is straightforward. It usually includes cross-training, coverage plans, and similar chores. When the pregnant worker is a lab manager, however, even more thought and work are required.

I have had three pregnancies during the past six years and just gave birth to my third child. As a manager, I have learned the necessity of organizing my own leave well. Solid preparation allows the mother-manager to assure that the laboratory will continue to run smoothly in her absence. She can cross-train personnel to perform her tasks, increasing the likelihood of a relaxed maternity leave, when her attention will focus on the baby and the rest of the family.

If you are a manager who may have a baby and go back to work, start planning soon after your pregnancy has been confirmed. I suggest that you divide your agenda chronologically into the periods described below.

* Notification. Inform your immediate superior about your pregnancy before you tell your coworkers. Early in the second trimester is a good time to make the announcement. Telling your boss first not only shows loyalty but also signals your willingness to consider the laboratory's needs as well as your own. Managers do not like to hear through the grapevine information they should have received directly.

"Going public" in the second trimester allows you the privacy of that critical first trimester, yet gives your boss time to plan ahead for your absence. An important exception to the second-trimester rule applies to those who work in a section of the laboratory that is forbidden to pregnant women. If so, immediate notification is a must (see "Making the lab safe for pregnant workers," page 54).

Approach your boss with a specific course of action and an open mind. Discuss your needs and reservations. Allowing your supervisor to help you formulate your plan will increase the likelihood that you both will be happy with the result.

Estimate the date of your departure, how long you would like to be away from work, and what you think must be done before you go. Expect to have follow-up meetings throughout your pregnancy to complete your preparations and to retain your supervisor's confidence that you are planning your leave thoughtfully.

* Concentration. While having a baby is exciting, you don't necessarily have to talk about it constantly. Your supervisor wants to believe that you are still thinking about the lab and your work.

It's harder to project a professional image while pregnant. If you let your work slack off, someone will blame the lapse on your pregnancy. Dress comfortably but appropriately. Sweatsuits and thongs are sure to detract from one's professional demeanor.

If you find yourself having work-related difficulties during the last months of your pregnancy, talk to your boss about it. Many times a supervisor would rather reassign you to a task that doesn't require you to stand all day than risk losing you a month or two early.

* Preparing to go. As a supervisor, you will be in a good position to note who on your staff is most able to fill in during your absence. Make the selection by the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. Spend an hour a day together. Your replacement will experience more aspects of supervision by training slowly and over a longer period. Early selection leaves the door open to start your leave early if complications of pregnancy ensue. Furthermore, the lab itself may have "complications" during the last months before your leave. You certainly won't want to be stuck having no replacement and no time to train one.

Depending upon how many of your responsibilities the interim person must learn, allow at least a month for the basics. Then add several more specialized tasks, such as personnel schedules and end-of-the-month reports, including work-load and productivity statistics.

During my last pregnancy, I took my interim supervisor to at least two sessions of each kind of mandatory meeting. These encounters enabled me to introduce her to everyone and show her the roles I play, in action.

During the last month of pregnancy, I took three steps:

[unkeyable] Made contact. I introduced my interim supervisor to people outside the laboratory whom I deal with on a regular basis, including nurses and vendors.

[unkeyable] Listed duties. I wrote down the duties I routinely perform, broken down by frequency: daily, weekly, monthly, or as needed. This written record helped my replacement remember what had to be done until it became rote.

[unkeyable] Stepped aside. I let her take over daily operations for the last three weeks I was there. At a staff meeting, I asked everyone to start taking problems and questions to her rather than to me. This period was invaluable to both of us. She got her feet wet while I was still there as a backup, and I had time to tie up loose ends.

* While you're gone. Create a folder and perhaps a computer file in which your interim person can note changes that occur while you are gone. Reading the file upon your return will give you a quick update on memos, new company policies, and other changes. Some of this material might be mailed to you at your home, if you prefer.

Just before leaving, let both your substitute and your supervisor know that you can be reached by phone if something particularly important comes up. During the first two or three weeks of your absence, you'll probably receive a few calls. If you have trained your stand-in properly, however, the number of calls should diminish as his or her confidence grows.

* When you return. Every hospital, state, and union contract may differ as to the length of time allowed for maternity leave (see "How long is maternity leave?," below). In California, state laws governing disability cover the initial period of the maternity leave. Any extension is based on institutional preferences, and women may use unused paid time off to spend a longer period of time with their newborns. Examine the policies of your own state and institution. As soon as possible after the birth of your child, give your boss a firm return date.

Maternity leave can be a workable and fulfilling part of life for even the most dedicated career woman. Manage it in the same way you handle your lab responsibilities. Plan the leave well, using it to the laboratory's greatest advantage as well as your own. You don't have to sacrifice the quality of your time with your new baby if you make an effort to plan ahead. Staying in close communication will help your boss overcome the common and understandable fear that a fine worker has been lost indefinitely to the world of domesticity.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles; woman laboratory supervisor on maternity leave
Author:Smiley, JoEllen Fehrenbach
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Previous Article:Compiling employee safety records that will satisfy OSHA.
Next Article:A well-designed maternity leave form prevents confusion and disappointment.

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