I'll admit it: I haven't yet done my maternity leave paperwork... though I know February will sneak up on me like a run in my pantyhose, right after all the holiday madness. Eeek. This is my second baby, so maybe I'm less anxious about it than I should be. But I know deep down, leaving the office for an extended period of time means I need to hunker down and do the prep. Maybe you do, too.
The Internet offers lots of great information about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and other items for your tax accountant and your banker, but there's more to it than simply filing the forms. A little investment of time and some important conversations will give you, and everyone else, peace of mind. So let's explore what to do, in person, before leaving your bricks-and-mortar office. (Your poor cube will miss you so!)
First tip: Talk about being gone. No matter who I ask about maternity leave at my large and not-so-personal company, I get the same scripted advice: "Visit the web site." So in addition to that, I will be talking to someone: the most recent new mom in my group. I plan to quiz her on which benefits were automatic, which ones she negotiated for, and how it all panned out. (I've absolutely forgotten from last time.) If you have a more accessible HR manager than me, make an appointment. Line the papers between you and point specifically at the ones you don't understand: "This means... what?" And if no one at your office has had a baby, why aren't you checking the Work It, Mom! forums and groups? Go ahead, post a question!
Second: Talk about being there. What I mean is, communicate with your temporary replacement or your coworkers. In 2004 when my son was born, I created a list called "Daily Tasks" ...because the girl was brand-new, and I wanted her to do my job exactly right. I checked in with her frequently, up to the last moment, often doing things together as we prepped. It got harder to concentrate toward my due date, so start early if you can. Organize your contacts and project status info, and then feel comfortable that you've shared everything you know.
Third: Talk about being in touch... or out of pocket. If you have decided to shut down your work-self completely, let people know you won't be available, and then don't feel guilty about it. I can't personally recommend this, and I'll tell you why in our third installment in January. If you're planning to stay in touch, take home copies of the things you might need, or at least decide how often you'll email your cube neighbor to get the office gossip!