Amy Joyce’s Life at Work column in the Washington Post yesterday also featured a discussion of maternity leaves and the impact on affected offices. I shouldn’t be surprised. Amy herself is pregnant and expecting to take maternity leave in a few short months. It still caught me off guard. To see attention focused in the Post on this issue again? Excellent. To see a thoughtful essay on it, written by the employee herself? Even better.
The most interesting part about this, however, at least to me, is how her article presents it as an opportunity — for colleagues in the office to step into new roles and pick up new skills. Of course it has to be, as few employers are willing to hire a temporary employee or plan ahead sufficiently to utilize an IPA (temporary, highly skilled, visitor brought to a federal office under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, often in order to enable transfer of knowledge and understanding between government and academia more efficiently, or to quickly fill a vacancy) for the time when the office will be shorthanded. Filling the vacancy by offering other employees the chance to expand their skill set upward — very smart. First, it benefits the employees that “stretch” their skills to cover new expectations. This approach also benefits the employer, who won’t fall behind in promised or scheduled work, and any clients, who many not even notice a difference. Of course it benefits the new mother or father taking maternity/paternity leave, by letting them spend time with their newborns, getting breastfeeding established, and helping the family settle into a new routine. It benefits the babies, who will love spending time with less-stressed, (hopefully) doting parents who are free to meet the baby’s needs as she discovers them. And? It benefits society.
Society benefits from this foresight in many ways, from increased productivity before and after a leave to widespread job stability and higher levels of job satisfaction. The job stability issue may not be as obvious as the other two points, but it is pretty clear that a woman satisfied with her opportunity to take maternity leave worry-free will be much more likely to return to that position, instead of feeling underappreciated, frustrated, frazzled, and like she has no choice but to quit and pehaps find a mnore flexible arrangement.
Should employers cheerfully offer maternity/paternity leave? Yes. It’s an opportunity that benefits everyone.
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