Comeback Conversation – How To Make An Impact When You Return To Work Maternal Mental Health
Comeback Conversation – How to Prepare for Leave as a Leader
In this post we’re sharing some of the Q&A from our live Comeback Conversation with Cat Jones, CEO of Byway, on preparing for leave as a leader. Cat has experience of taking two maternity leaves whilst leading large teams.
Before founding Byway, Cat was Managing Director at Founders Factory, where she led investments in fourteen startups a year, and coached founders across a portfolio of forty companies. Previously, she was SVP at video ad tech company Unruly, acquired by News Corp for £114M. She created and ran Unruly EQ, a thirty-person division delivering a suite of emotional data and targeting products. Cat has been featured in TIME and on the BBC.
- Guessing how long you want to have off before you have had your baby is a very difficult thing to do.
- For myself, I guessed 9 months – it wasn’t a full year, and I would be back to the team having not been out for too long. It was also enough time for me to feel like I was going to properly disconnect. If I took too short a time, I would feel like I was just having some time off, whereas if I was out for longer, I felt like I was properly ‘out’.
- What I found with my leave is that there was a huge amount of potential for the team to grow and if I had of sat down and figured out who could do what and where and who could step up, we may not have needed someone to cover. Although if I had of gone out for a short amount of time, there wouldn’t have been room for people to grow into those roles.
- It’s good to plan to go out for longer but be able to come back earlier if you don’t need so much time.
- If you are going to take a short amount of time, think about how you are going to come back and whether you can spread some of your leave over the return so you can do a bit of part-time and see how that goes.
- Have the confidence to have the discussions about being flexible on your return. The more conversations you can have ahead of time, the smoother it will be. There needs to be a lot of flexibility and fluidity from the leadership of the business.
- Jessica – Taking 3 months is a very short amount of time, especially if you don’t know the type of baby you will have. We see a lot of people coming back and they are very sleep deprived and it’s very hard to function. You give yourself a better chance, the older your child gets. It is possibly better to plan for a longer leave and plan to come back sooner rather than planning for a shorter leave and needing to take more time off.
- If you are coming back to work after 3 months because you want to then that is great but if you feel you would like to have longer off but you are worried about this project and feel the need to come back earlier, then some of the onus needs to be put onto the people who are running that business so they can make sure the project is delivered on time.
- You need to have a good succession plan when you are away, whether that is cover or someone stepping up within the team.
- You need to think about where people can take on bigger roles for a shorter period of time and if no one can do that, then look at cover, especially if the team is already feeling like they need support.
- Don’t necessarily push for cover but push for someone to take ownership of those things that are going to go missing when you are not there.
- Don’t stay in close contact while you are away. It will be very hard for you but also very hard for your team because no one knows who’s actually in charge. You’re not there enough to actually be in charge and to actually fix stuff and actually make decisions because you don’t have the context.
- For my second maternity, I used my KIT days to keep in contact. I split these into hours and used them to do 1-1’s with my team leads. This kept me close enough to be a sounding board/advisor. People could also phone and ask me for help. This helped me as it kept me aware, and I felt closer when I got back to work.
- Have the conversation right now and again before you go. Be really clear that you are going on leave and you are expecting to be up for a promotion as you are a good candidate. Ask if they agree with that and if there are any gaps, what you should be doing and what areas you need to address to align everything. Going on leave should not affect anything.
- Make sure that your KIT days are not just used for your team and your area of responsibility but for the wider company and your areas of growth and responsibility.
- If there are welcome drinks going on and you are still on maternity leave, let people know you would still like to be invited. You are not working but you can still see people from work and build relationships.
- Carve out some of your Keeping in Touch time to build relationships with people you haven’t met before.
- Jessica – Your Line manager can be helpful in brokering an introduction with new people in the organisation and they can paint a glowing picture to bolster that returning person’s sense of self-esteem, credibility and capability.
- Disconnect when you go. Don’t try to get any KIT days in early, take the time and enjoy this time that you won’t get back. When you are ready, you are in control of when to take your KIT days and thinking about your return.
- Switch off, hand over responsibility and don’t worry – trust your team and management to fix anything that happens.
- Do a really clear handover – really strong expectation setting. Massively over-communicate – these are the roles; this is what I am expecting when I get back. This is who is in charge of what and this is the escalation process. Let whoever is managing me know what I expect from myself when I return.
Cat’s advice on whether taking short maternity is the right choice for one of our attendees
Cat’s advice on how to support people in your team who stepped up whilst you were away
Cat on considering returning to work part-time