Today, one of my direct reports told me that she was pregnant. What is the rule of thumb here for when I should discuss her long term employment plans with her? Obviously this is an exciting time for her (her first child) and she has a lot to deal with outside of work. I don't want to immediately start asking her questions about how this is going to affect me, however - I need to know how this is going to affect me :)

If she doesn't bring it up, how much time should go by before it's safe for me to talk about?

Lionel B Dyck's picture

From my experience which includes two members of my staff within the last 3 years and before that with coworkers the general rule of thumb according to my HR indoctrination is that you are not allowed to ask about long term implications. You can ask about her health and her plans for maternity leave so that you can request approval to bring in a short term contractor to backfill but you can not ask if she is planning to return after maternity leave. You can and should ask her to prepare a list of projects and daily tasks that she is working on that will need to be handled by others.

In my experience the 2 direct reports both took 6 weeks (what my company allows) for maternity leave with 1 leaving 2 weeks before and the other 1 day before delivery. Both returned and are still working. Of my coworkers who went on maternity all planned to return and of them only 1 elected during her maternity leave to remain home and become a full time mom (a decision I supported).

hope this helps

indiana's picture

Two questions:
1- where are you? I can only speak for Europe, where a pregnant woman has nearly more rights than she has when she is not pregnant (eg she can't be made redundant).

2- do you have a HR department to help you? They are the most up to date as these things (at least in Europe) do change...

jclishe's picture

Thanks for the replies and good feedback.

I am in the United States.

I can, and will, approach HR but at this time my direct has not gone public with her pregnancy. She feels comfortable enough confiding in me but she does not want this to be public knowledge yet (She is not married and relatively new to the company so I think she feels a bit akward about what this will do to her public perception). She is my only female direct report, so if I was to approach HR with this subject, it would be pretty obvious who I was talking about.

Dani Martin's picture
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I'm sure every company handles things differently; however, I recently faced this issue as well. Thanks to a few years of weekly O3's, feedback, etc. I had a [b]very[/b] strong relationship with my direct. I waited about 2 weeks (to allow her some time to get used to the thought of being pregnant -- it was also her first) and then during one of our O3's I asked her what her plans/thoughts were. She was a stellar employee -- top performer -- so I was quick to asure her that I hoped that she would come back but certainly understood that she needed to make the best decision for her family. I listened to her response - she hadn't decided, wasn't sure, etc - then I let her know that if she was worried about losing any paid maternity leave by giving notice prior to the delivery, the organization would still pay her as though she were coming back, through the end of the leave. Of course, I got approval of this from my supervisor first! I explained that we would rather pay her and know ahead of time. She promised me that I would be the 3rd one to know her decision (after her and her husband!).
So, how did it all work out? Well, she indeed decided to stay home, however, she called me about 5 weeks before her leave ended to let me know. This gave me the time to work with my supervisor and my other directs and get a game plan together and actually post the job immediately.
It's all about the relationship! I know she knew she could trust me and wouldn't get the short end of the stick by being honest and forthcoming.

(She truly was an amazing employee and I miss her dearly [b]everyday[/b]!!

noahcampbell's picture

[quote="jclishe"]Thanks for the replies and good feedback.

I am in the United States.

I can, and will, approach HR but at this time my direct has not gone public with her pregnancy. She feels comfortable enough confiding in me but she does not want this to be public knowledge yet (She is not married and relatively new to the company so I think she feels a bit awkward about what this will do to her public perception). She is my only female direct report, so if I was to approach HR with this subject, it would be pretty obvious who I was talking about.[/quote]

Run, not walk, to HR and tell them immediately. You may lose some trust from your direct, but you don't want to get in the middle of any HR related issues. If she were to quit and then file a lawsuit saying you discriminated against her because she was pregnant, even if it's not true, you'll be out of a job very quickly. Your her manager first, friend second.

Consider the fact that she told you, her going public. The other thing to consider is that if you work in a regulated environment then you may be subjecting her to undue risk (my reference are female chemists who are restricted from working in a lab once it becomes known that they're pregnant for health reasons. If your any reason she was hurt on the job or suffered birth defects and you didn't tell'll be in hot water). So the safest thing to do is to let HR know and ask for their guidance. HR will keep the privacy.

tplummer's picture

I've gone through it before many times. I generally say that at some point in the future we'll have to talk about timeframe of you taking leave, approximate length of stay, full time or part time coming back, and future projects to work on. Get the due date and mark it on your calendar. If the conversation doesn't naturally happen, about 2-3 months prior I say we have to work this out now. I tell them nothing is set in stone but I need a general understanding of her plans. Also work out a transition plan and no firm transition back plans unless she wants them. At our work, the employee calls a hotline 30 days prior to the due date to set up the actual medical leave of absence and all the paper work. So, luckily I don't worry about that.

2nd, I wouldn't tell anyone else except HR if needed. If she hasn't made it public, you don't make it public. To me that includes other peers and your boss. Given enough time, any gossip leaks. If you want, ask her if it's alright if you tell your boss and make sure that's confidential.

Good luck!

GlennR's picture

I agree with Noah.

Some may call it CYA, I call it common sense.

You do not have to tell the direct that you spoke to HR.

Even if you have been doing this for years, employment law changes so fast that it's hard for even HR professionals to keep up with it, much less front-line managers.


(still certified in HR but no longer practicin')

PierG's picture

This is a wonderful time for her!
If you have a good relationship with her, if you have created a good team, in few words if you are a good MT listener ;) , I'm sure she will be the first to step in your direction.
She is probably worried more then you are in being professional in managing this BEAUTIFUL and HARD time that's coming.
I'd introduce frankly the topic with her and ask for her opinion on how she'd like to manage her business future in the company.
P.S. I'm talking by personal experience: I've a 2 years old son and we are still in troubles (yes: it's a thing to manage not only for the mother but also for the father!!!!)

Mark's picture
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I don't know the rules where you are but it doesn't matter.

First, this isn't about primarily about work. PierG's first line is the thought I recommend you keep foremost in your mind.

Do not tell HR. You don't have to, and telling them will NOT protect you in a lawsuit. If managers did all the things that every lawyer or personnel expert told them to do to avoid lawsuits.... well, you can guess.

Find out what your company policy is and make sure you tell her about it in detail, and then tell her you want her to do what is necessary for her family first. Do NOT attempt to find things out in order to make your life easier.

In general, Dani's approach is the one I would recommend.

If you think there's some clever plan to figure out what she will do, and how you can mitigate your risk, there is not. One must do one's duty, trusting the relationship and communicating openly and caringly.

Welcome to the uncertain world of management. It's all about people, and more communication is better. ;-)

Remember what PierG said. All the management in the world will not ever take the place of the joy and blessing of the birth of a child.


davidmould's picture

That's both of us :)

An employee of mine has recently informed me of her news. I felt a real sense of the trust she has to raise it so early to me.

Don't abuse the trust that has been endowed on you. Seek approval from the employee before acting, obviously you will have to contact HR in due course so you can understand the maternity leave policy IN ORDER to explain it to your employee. At this time I'm not thinking about the effect on my team. This is an exciting period for your employee, and in many ways for me to as I watch someone go through this life enriching experience. Change is in the air, primarily for her, don't loose sight of that. It's my role as the manager to make the change as stress free as possible. For me as a lead of a project delivery team with utilization targets to chase this means getting as far ahead of the headlights as you can. My thinking is not having to worry about the next billable hour to chase would be a good start.

These will mean socializing the need to assess the pipeline, again approval, approval, approval.

What you can achieve will absolutely really on the strength your relationship and how much trust is with the organization as a whole.

Of course I'm thinking succession planning. The only constant is change, you can use this to start developing succession plans without drawing unwanted attention for the need to do so.

The most delicate part of the process so far has been the question of return to work. At first I thought it would be the discussion around flexibility in the closing weeks for any circumstances that might occur.

The employee is adamant that she will return to work. This is good news but I felt a responsibility to air that it's perfectly fine and natural to change this decision (many times). Again for me it's all about de-stressing the environment for her whilst keeping the plans in your mind.

Mark's picture
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David's (best skype name ever) post caused me to recur here.

The solution to whether she will stay or go afterwards is easy, but not for most managers. Most managers fill 'openings', and therefore wait to start the search until there's pain. That's the justification for wanting to ferret out what she is going to do.

The more effective way is to always have a bench of folks that you would be ready to hire, and make sure they know they're on your bench.


AManagerTool's picture

I can also speak to this subject a bit. One of my top performers announced she was pregnant to everyone. She was giddy with pleasure to do it so I didn't have the quandary of bringing it to HR's attention. But had she wanted to keep it secret, I would have NOT been able to follow Mark's advice due to the pharmaceutical lab environment that we work in. I place my people's health above my interpersonal relationship with them. In Mark's defense, if it's not a safety concern, keep my mouth shut would be my rule. I'd rather provoke the ire of HR than expose my direct to scrutiny that was unwelcome to her.

You should also really bend over backwards to help her with the pregnancy as well as the aftermath. People are concerned with the time that she has to take leave but before that occurs there are a whole lot of doctor appointments that will disrupt her days. She might get sick at work and need to spend her days walking back and forth to the bathroom. My report was very unfortunate in that she had some complications with the pregnancy and needed to deliver her baby 4 months early. She has just returned to work after 6 months on family leave with some HUGE doctor bills and a baby with medical issues. She is extremely stressed and I am doing everything in my power to keep an eye on her workload so that her stress does not increase beyond what she can manage. I will attempt to give her EVERY day off that she needs in order to help her with that issue. She has earned that from me and the organization.

There are many other things that you as her manager will have to deal with besides the leave issue. How you handle those things will really make an impact on your relationship with her.

pneuhardt's picture

I would like to add one thing to this topic. Managers have a responsibility to the rest of their team in this situation as well. Lucky for us, it's a very simple one. That responsibility comes after the direct has made the decision to return to work or stay at home with the child.

If the person returns to work, your responsibility to the rest of the team is to act as if this were all perfectly natural and therefore deserves no special commentary. Welcome her back, coo a little over pictures of the baby, then do your job as her manager to help get her up and productive again.

If the person does not return to work, your responsibility to the rest of the team is to act as if this were all perfectly natural and therefore deserves no special commentary. Say she made a personal decision that she felt was best for her and her family, wish her well and then fill her position. (Personally, I find trying to arrange lunch with the new mom and baby a few weeks post-delivery helps team building as well and can be fun. Hey, I like babies, what can I say?)

Notice the theme here: "This is all perfectly natural and deserves no special commentary". No speeches, no team reviews of policy, no frantic "war room" gatherings on how we will all deal with the "pregnancy crisis" (my wife's boss did this when she announced her first pregnancy). It's huge for the person, and I hope all around her will be supportive, but it has to be treated like any other work situation in your role as a manager. Deal with it professionaly when that is what is called for.

Mark's picture
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Well said. And ask about the baby by NAME. Every week.


scbioengineer's picture

Well, let me preface by saying that I am not a manager and am pretty skeptical of the whole thing. I'm sure I'll talk about that later, but suffice for now to say that I think manager tools is part of the solution (I bet they'd tell you most managers do it wrong but will probably bristle when a non-manager like myself criticizes the endeavour in general :wink: ) Regardless, I've listened to every podcast (multiple times) so when I get called off the bench I will be ready.

Basically, I found that all managers cared only about their own career. But, I appreciate that you are forthright about this in your original post. I guess it's the B.S. that gets me the most. Maybe it can't be any other way, or maybe if you fake caring about others long enough it becomes part of who you are. I don't know. I'm really not as bitter as I may sound here, I'm just trying to figure out what makes people tick.

From my perspective, I left a company about a year and a half ago. I gave them adequate notice and in fact did most of the things Manager Tools recommended in their podcast, and some they don't recommend (putting resignation in writing) despite never having heard it at the time. I mostly did what seemed right to do.

So, you can lose employees any time and be totally blindsided, so be thankful that with a pregnancy you have some notice and a good idea of what the potential outcomes are.

I don't like that the gov't puts rules on managers (e.g. mandated leave, etc.), but unfortunately, those are the result of the bad apples treating people poorly. So, we get the rules that others deserve.

Another personal perspective, an acquaintance of mine is pregnant, and because she cannot trust her manager she has not been able to be as forthright. So, you are doubly blessed. Keep treating people right and they will treat you right.

Hey, how 'bout a podcast for pregnant women in this situation?

Mark's picture
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Not all managers care about their own career.

And it can be another way. Here.

What makes people tick is up to them, and you have to get to know them before they tell you in intricate detail.

Until then, professional love is the answer.


pneuhardt's picture

I don't know about Mark and Mike, but I know I bristle quite strongly at the assertion that "all managers care only about their own career." This has not been my observation regarding some of the best managers I have encountered in my career, and I know quite good and well it is not the case with me. Twice I have knowingly done major damage to my "career path" and both times for good reasons.

On one occasion I left a senior management position for a far lesser one over a matter of ethics. I decided that while it hurt my career, I did not wish to be a party to deceiving our customers. I made the right choice then and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

After having crawled my way back up to a similar position in another company, I once again put my career on the back burner in favor of my wife's. We could not both maintain our intense careers and care for our children as we wanted to. One of us had to curtail things, and as I felt it would be easier for me to resume my career advancement as a man than it would be for her as a woman (a sad, but I believe still true situation). I walked away from that path and took a far less demanding one. Ten years later she and I are divorced, but I firmly believe one again that I made the right decision then and I would do it again in the same situation. And for the record, I was right. I have found it much easier to resume the "fast track" career than she would have even as I compete with people 10 to 15 years my junior for some of these positions.

I could cite many other examples I have witnessed of good managers choosing what was right over what was good for them. This includes "going to bat" for their subordinates and being punished for it. It is part of the human condition to find people who make that kind of decision when faced with such a situation. To say I was insulted by the assertion that no such people existed would be to seriously understate the situation.

juliahhavener's picture
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I find that people who firmly believes others are only out for themselves often are.

The best managers I've known, the ones who inspire me, are people I've seen take some risks to their own career in supporting/protecting others or with their devotion to their employees. These are the same folks who support and develop their teams with the right balance of adjusting and affirming feedback, coaching, and O3s (whether by design or not).

cowie165's picture

What a helpful thread! More runs on the board for MT.

Pier's post about pregnancy being such a happy time is a great thought to dwell on. I have two girls of my own and I'm sure my staff member isn't stressing too much over the hole she'll leave in the team - rather it is all about cots and mobiles and nursing and teeny tiny jumpsuits. Great stuff.

And to share the multicultural perspective: In Australia, nursing means holding or cuddling the baby, NOT feeding. A friend mine had an awkward moment when she visited Hawaii recently and asked an American friend with a newborn, "do you mind if I have a nurse?" The American mother replied, "uh, sure, but I don't think he'll take to anyone else."

ifindallas's picture

I was surprised with my manager's reaction to my pregnancy announcement: ah, OK, Nature is wonderful. Congratulations, I'll keep you the secret.

What about planning? my boss is not my friend, and my reason for telling him at only 3 months into my pregnancy was so that he could prepare in situations where my doctor appointments are frequent, there is potential for not volunteering for extensive travelling and hopefully there will not be any health related reason, such as bed rest or an early delivery.

I would have expected something along the lines of: "congratulations, great, exciting times for you"... and then...."I'll need to work with you to see who can take your tasks and projects when you are gone, we can discuss in a month or so, or when you're ready.".

What would be reasanoble to you?


Mark's picture
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I think it would be a fair characterization to say that your boss is an insensitive lout.

On the other hand, what you heard is MUCH better than what some hear, and some are so afraid of repercussions they don't say anything until they have to (leading to other bad behaviors) or, they worry that the boss will figure out a way to get rid of them. True or not, fear is rampant.

So, he's clumsy...but it sounds like he's going to work with you.

We try not to worry too much about bosses, because there's not a lot we can do. Mark this down in your book as what you WON'T do when one of your directs brings you news of great joy.


jhack's picture

Couple of thoughts on these threads....

I've had directs take maternity leave many times, and found that there was little or no correlation between what the mom-to-be thought she would do (ie, come back to the workplace or become a full-time mom) and what she actually did. If this is her first kid, she can't know how her life will change or how her career fits into the new reality. So even if she insists she'll want to stay home, she may be itching to return in six weeks.

So PierG's advice is practical as well as charitable: it's a happy time, it's normal, and you can plan with this as a constraint. It's life!

On the side thread of managers only caring about their careers, Julia is on target: many people attribute to others their own motivations. If you see this behavior in others, it is a great data point regarding that person. Can this person distinguish between people or do they stereotype? It's one indicator of management readiness.

tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

One of my peers is recently back from maternity leave, and she points out that not only is each parent different, each birth is different. With her first son a couple years ago, she couldn't wait to get back to work. This time around, she wasn't really ready to come back and thought seriously about not coming back at all.

The role of fathers is also evolving, and some ... more senior managers have trouble dealing with that. When I announced (now eleven years ago) that I was expecting a larger family, and would be taking six to seven weeks off after my daughter was born, I got shock and hostility from my boss. Fortunately the corporate policy was on my side, and he knew that my wife's firm did family and employment litigation. :twisted:

The most astounding reaction I've ever heard goes back even further. One of my peers announced in a team meeting that she was pregnant, and the team lead's response was "It's not mine, is it?"

He got divorced about a month later.