Preparing to go back to work after giving birth can be challenging no matter your age or title. Here our guest poster, Melissa Wallace, VP of Marketing at Splash, gives her advice on what she learned during her recent maternity leave.
By Melissa Wallace, Vice President of Marketing, Splash
A friend of mine asked me for advice on taking her maternity leave. One year ago, I was in my first week of maternity leave and just three months prior I had asked my mentor the exact same thing. It was pretty much impossible to find advice by searching Google, as all I could find were articles about Marissa Mayer and how she worked through her leave. Of course, I expected that would be me, as a driven executive only six months on a new job. But, I still needed to know how to plan for that.
My mentor gave me great advice, which worked well with my idea to stay engaged while at home with the new baby. However, as good as her advice was, and as accepting as my company and team were, the actual execution was a very different story.
I organized a plan, based on the input from my mentor and the needs of my team.
The plan was based on three things:
- A proxy: my Sr. Director of Marketing who would fill in for me
- Two rules: No deadlines, no changes to the plan
- Increasing engagement: from none (first two weeks), to limited (weeks 3-8), to full-time working from home (weeks 8-12)
It seemed pretty solid to me. Ironically, my CEO and other male executives from the company had suggested tweaks in the timing, to benefit me. But I refused. I did not believe that completely shutting off would help anyone, and believed I could find time to connect as early as two weeks in.
I was incredibly wrong. Here’s how my plan failed:
My proxy had literally just come back from her own maternity leave and was still getting up to speed on things herself. While I felt great because this was the person I trusted most, I did not loop the executive team into my plans for her or make it clear to them that she should have full leadership authority in my absence. My proxy successfully kept things running, but ended up being pulled in many directions by executives who weren’t clear on her role. Not only did I not set her up for success, I made her own return to work more stressful as a result.
Which leads me to failing at engagement. But first you must know this: having a newborn is something you have no idea how to interpret until it happens. It’s like imagining what it would be like to be a cat, but let’s face it – unless you are a cat, you really have NO idea. Two weeks maternity leave with a newborn is a joke. In fact, at the two weeks point even the most efficient and supported parent is so down and out on sleep that you are literally at your worst. Three weeks is better, but be realistic. The truth is, you won’t start feeling human again for a long time, but four weeks is more reasonable.
I started engaging once a day on email after two weeks, which opened a huge can of worms. I was suddenly being roped into a lot more than I could handle for an hour a day. By three weeks I was sitting on conference calls and on email any time I had a free hand. It’s manageable – I mean, I did it. But it did not benefit anyone involved with the exception of maybe my team, who desperately needed some motivational, positive reinforcement along with guidance on changing projects out of their control.
So in thinking through things a year ago, here are my amended maternity leave recommendations:
STICK TO YOUR PLAN
- Assign a proxy: someone you trust, whom you don’t mind calling you from time to time.
- THEN: Set them up for success. Make sure the executive team understands the role of the proxy and respects the selection and leadership. Make sure the teams knows how to communicate with the proxy and also has respect for your selection and their leadership.
- NO Deadlines. NO Changes to the plan. It’s only three months. Get everyone to agree. There is nothing worse than work that goes to waste. And no one wants to be stressed out while completely disconnected.
- Take time off. I suggest at least four weeks completely off. Focus on your family – because it is true, it goes very fast. Focus on YOU because you are going to be a hard-working mama and you need that time to get yourself in the headspace for what that really means.
Fostering work/life integration may be more prudent than focusing on having a work/life balance. While the terms sound the same, concentrating on seamlessly integrating work and life into your day-to-day as opposed to finding a balance between a demanding job and a demanding life may provide a smoother transition back into your full-time job.
Melissa Wallace is the vice president of marketing at Splash, a comprehensive events management platform that maximizes event impact at scale. Melissa oversees all of the marketing initiatives at Splash, including brand, digital, event, product and content marketing. Melissa has over 19 years of marketing experience from her consumer, B2B and agency background primarily focused in tech and entertainment. While Melissa has held positions at consumer brands such as DIRECTV, A&E and eMusic, she is most recently known for her efforts to rebrand and accelerate the marketing strategy as vice president of marketing at Buddy Media (acquired by Salesforce.com for $689M). Additionally, prior to joining Splash, Melissa served as vice president of marketing at Bitly. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from SUNY Albany and a master’s degree in media studies from the New School.