How to Set Yourself up for Success on Your Parental Leave

Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper · 6 min read

Parental leave is a great way to set a stretch goal for a person that otherwise might not have gotten the opportunity.

So you’re expecting or have gotten to adopt a little one? Yay! Parenthood is one of the best, though most exhausting things, that I have ever done. Good news: you still have time to prepare. Bad news: even though you don’t yet have the baby, the work is already starting.

Getting ready for parental leave can feel incredibly overwhelming, no matter what stage of company you are in. Whether you’re the first person to take parental leave at a small company or if your company’s leave operations are a well-oiled machine, there are a few key things that you can do for yourself and your team to set them up for success.

Remember: parental leave is precious time to spend learning about your own, new relationship with a whole tiny person. The one thing I can tell you for sure is that, at least for the first few weeks, you will feel overstretched and worn thin, even without work in the picture. Take these top three pieces of advice to help you focus when you’re battening down the hatches and getting ready to take off for leave.

miss a deadlineCover your bases

Every country and every company offers different levels of parental leave. Take, for example, this chart breaking down the policies of a few larger European countries:

That being said, not everyone is lucky enough to work in a country where you are required to take time off after welcoming a child. If you aren’t sure about what policies your company or country has in place for new parents, now’s the time to dig in and find out. It’s especially important that you have a solid understanding of what policies are already in place and which need more clarification prior to announcing your good news.

Here’s a checklist of the things that you should confirm, prior to the big reveal:

  1. Make a list of what your ideal leave would look like. For example, do you want to stay home for 12 weeks and then come back part-time for 16 more? Shoot for pie in the sky here. Be as idealistic as possible. You’ll likely have to reel it back, but starting from your dream is a great way to go.
  2. Figure out what kind of coverage is required by law in your country for parental leave. This will be different for birthing parents, supporting parents, surrogacy and adoption, so ensure to dive deep into the one that pertains to you.
  3. Learn about what your company currently offers. This is especially important if your country does not offer any national paid leave. If there is anything that is even slightly unclear, ask your direct manager or your HR team if you have one.
  4. Tell your boss and then use the time to discuss what your ideal plan is. If you have a strong relationship with your boss, you can talk to them early on in the process, but we’d suggest waiting until after the first trimester for you or your partner is over.

After you’ve completed these steps, you may need to negotiate with your company about the things that you want to have happen. That idealized pie-in-the-sky plan that you wrote in the very beginning? Now’s the time to fight for it.

Negotiate and get your plans in writing (signed if necessary). Once you’ve got all the logistics in place, you can share your news with your team or the company as a whole. Yay!

SEO SPAMMake a list and delegate

Once you’ve nailed down exactly what is going to happen when you leave, it’s time to figure out how it’s going to happen. Make a list of all of your responsibilities, both within and without your team, and then start to arrange cover.

Leave no stone unturned here. Are you the person responsible for turning off the lights and music in the office at the end of the day? That needs to be included. Are you the team member that manages all of the communication with a large partner? That needs to be written up too.

Once you’ve got your list down, start to write up a scratch version of who you think would be the best person to cover the task.

Remember, you don’t always have to delegate a role to someone who would be the perfect fit. Sometimes, parental leave is a great way to set a stretch goal for a person that otherwise might not have gotten the opportunity. Even while you are out, you can still be teaching and developing your team.

Also, use this opportunity to really take stock of your work. You might even find tasks that shouldn’t go to anyone on your team, or that no one is a good fit for. Better yet, you might find opportunities that are a better fit for someone on your team that you should have been delegating already. Use this list to clean out your metaphorical cupboard and put tasks and responsibilities under the teams and people they belong. Maybe something should have lived under engineering all along, but got shoveled over to support out of desperation. Now’s the time to shift it back.

You also don’t need to pick everything back up when you get back—maybe someone else should take over ownership and free you up for other, more important or applicable duties.

Once you’ve got everything covered tentatively, talk to the people that you’ve written down and make sure that they agree or are interested. Then, create a Google Doc or another shareable, open resource you make accessible to your whole company.

Think of this as the FAQ for when you are out. People will come and look here if they have questions or if they need to know who to reach out to. Include the dates that you expect to be gone, set out the responsibilities and the team member handling them, and list the best people to ask questions of while you are gone.

Lastly, write up an email draft that reiterates all of these things and links to the original document. Make sure that you include all relevant people in the CC or BCC sections, such as people that agreed to cover for you and any of their direct managers. Saving this as a draft lets you just hit “send” when it’s go time.

Remember – “go time” might be sooner than you expect! New arrivals can come with all sorts of surprises, especially of the medical kind, so be prepared to leave sooner than planned.

leadership presenceLet your team talk

Losing someone on the team, even temporarily, might be scary for some of the people on your team. They might be nervous about being undertrained to take on a specific role or task, or even just worried about if you’ll come back. Take your time and listen to them. People can sometimes see things that you might have missed in your excitement.

You need to actively ask for employee feedback, rather than assuming they will give it to you—some people may think they are imposing on you, rather than helping. Some common concerns are:

  • Interpersonal relationship problems
  • Lack of training or preparation
  • Overburdening a team-member with additional tasks
  • Timeline structure
  • Resourcing
  • Missing responsibilities or tasks

Most of these things can be attacked with a bit of extra prep prior to you leaving—so just make sure you open up your ears to hear it!

customer experienceLeave and don’t come back until after your leave is over!

This probably sounds like a lot of work, especially when you have one million other things to worry about, like prepping a space for your new tiny being or getting paperwork done to take them home. Having a plan in place helps you protect your time away and gets your team prepped and ready to be their best selves while you are out.

Once you go on parental leave, delete Slack from your phone, stop checking work emails. Trust that your team knows how to get a hold of you if they have to. It will do nobody any good for you to sit around just waiting for things to go wrong. Trust that your team has got this!

All of the preparation you put into place and all of the work that your team has done will take care of the day-to-day. Believe that you selected the right people to cover your responsibilities and that your company is strong enough to withstand your absence.

They love you and miss you, but they can wait a little while for you to be emotionally and physically ready to come back. And until you do, enjoy your time with your baby! Congrats!

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Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper

Mercer is the Head of Support at Appcues, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at and on Twitter at @mercenator.

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