A Journey Through Paid Family Leave: Part 6
December 18, 2018
We’ve been following Stephanie, a ShelterPoint employee who took Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with her newborn daughter. We’ve checked in with her throughout her journey to see how she prepared to leave work, see how she handed her work off to her team, as well as how (and when in the process) she submitted her paperwork to claim her benefit.
Click here to start at the beginning of the series.
For this installment, we stepped away from Stephanie for a bit, and instead had a chat with her manager, Katrin. Stephanie and Katrin have been working closely together for 8 years. The Marketing team is small, and Stephanie plays a key role. In fact, when Stephanie told Katrin that she was pregnant, Katrin’s first reaction – as a mom of 2 little girls – was joy for Stephanie, but her manager mindset quickly came back into play: “How are we going to cover Stephanie being out on leave?”
With about 150 employees, ShelterPoint is not yet at a business size where there is much redundancy across positions – at least not in the Marketing Department. So when a team member is out on leave, it’s tough to cover the bases. At a large business, with larger teams, there’s often overlap in skill sets and cross-training, which can make it easier to cover a staffing gap due to reasons like Paid Family Leave. But smaller businesses (and smaller teams, like Katrin’s) may feel a bigger impact.
Over time, Katrin was able to grow the department and structure positions for at least partial overlap in core skills to reduce the risk of coming to a halt if the team is down by one. Automating and streamlining processes made the department run more efficiently, which, in turn, made room in the workload for team members to be cross-trained in select critical areas. And for 2018, Katrin’s department got 2 new positions approved in light of the company’s growth plan and staffing needs. So, when Stephanie announced she’d be taking leave, it was bitter-sweet news: “For one, the race was on – I’d have to make sure that I fill those open positions quickly to allow for onboarding and training (ideally by Steph herself) before she is actually out. Secondly, one of the positions is for an entirely different area of expertise; while the other one, thankfully, is closely related. But even with a new hire we’re barely making up for Steph’s absence – due to learning curves and the like – let alone take on those “bigger & better” things we had mapped out.”
The timing of Steph’s impending leave coinciding with the addition of 2 new team members was lucky in some regards, but it also meant that much of Katrin’s time would still be spent training while Steph is already out, and managing department changes and new staff dynamics that come along when a team increases by 50% at once.
“We had to be extremely well prepared to pull this off without hurting our productivity.” Katrin and Steph strategized how to approach the allocation of her responsibilities, identifying who is best equipped to take on what during her absence: What tasks were critical enough for Katrin to roll up her sleeves and take them on herself, what can be given to the new hire or other team members, and what can be paused or deprioritized while Steph is out.
This in itself opened the next question: “When was the last time we updated our manual?” It had been a while, to be exact: 3 and 6 years ago in preparation for Katrin’s own maternity leaves. And the Marketing department recently underwent so many changes that almost nothing in the manual was of relevance to train someone on what Steph does now. They set a goal that all relevant documentation would be complete a month prior to Stephanie’s due date, just in case.
“I felt confident that we’d hit that goal,” Katrin said, “A) because of Steph’s diligence, and B) because of our good work relationship she felt comfortable very early on letting me know she’s expecting while we kept it confidential until the time felt right for her to announce it to co-workers in general. So, as her manager, I was especially thankful that she told me so early.”
While Stephanie documented away, Katrin’s staff search went into hyper drive. The biggest variable was not just if but also how fast she could hire (the hiring managers among us know how long it can sometimes take to find the right person); and when that hire date would align with a) documentation being completed and b) Steph’s due date – or, really, how soon she could be out if the baby were to follow her mom’s footsteps as a premie. In the end, the stars were aligned right – and Sheila joined the team about 6 weeks before Steph’s early delivery (yes, Stephanie’s baby came ahead of schedule, a little over 3 weeks early). That gave Sheila just enough time to still get first-hand training from Stephanie.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t fill that position in time. You probably wouldn’t have seen as much published by ShelterPoint during that time, as a lot of work goes into getting one of these resource articles out, aside from just writing it. We certainly would have had to be even more selective with what we can spend our resources on.”
Despite being prepared, there will always be surprises. Stephanie’s original plan was to take 6 weeks of New York’s statutory short-term disability (commonly referred to as DBL, short for Disability Benefits Law, which covers time off for recovering from giving birth – learn more here) followed by 4 weeks of PFL for a combined total of 10 weeks, and then to return to work and take the remainder of her PFL leave in short increments over the following months. But, after giving birth and spending time with her new baby, she decided to take her full PFL duration all at once, which stretched her leave to 14 weeks. “As a mom, I totally understood why she decided to take the full amount of PFL time now without putting some aside for later during Olivia’s first year. You need that time for so many reasons – to really heal, figure out this new mom thing, adjust to your new life and find your groove, and soak up all those precious little moments. Your mother instincts kick in, and there’s nothing more important than being with your little miracle,” Katrin reminisced when sharing memories from having her first baby. “But – from the manager’s perspective – I got nervous for a moment and reviewed our editorial plan, pipeline, pending projects and deadlines slated for those extra 4 weeks. But because we were well prepared, and Steph would have been out through that time period anyway (had Olivia been on time), this change of plan had little impact on our team covering her role.”
Now that they’d weathered Stephanie’s leave, however, Katrin is looking ahead to preparing without the pressure of a real leave in the immediate future. “Being able to carve out time for housekeeping on a regular basis is a challenge but helps align the team – especially as we’re growing and our responsibilities and processes are evolving.”
Having felt the same pinch in the ability to prepare as any other business, ShelterPoint is, in a way, learning as they go just like everyone else. But their biggest takeaway is that being prepared for an employee to take leave is the best way to get through a PFL absence with minimal impact on the business. And while it’s difficult to prepare when no one is expected to leave, it’s not a given that every employee will provide significant lead time, meaning there could be a crunch when it’s time for someone to take leave. For this reason, the strongest approach is to have—at minimum—a plan, and if possible documentation already in place.
Katrin’s recommendations for managers
- Develop a coverage plan. This includes what your business will do when someone takes leave. Consider these questions when making your plan: How can you allocate responsibilities while you have an employee out? Can you cover it all internally? How feasible is it to bring in a Temp? Identify which tasks (if any) can be performed by a Temp and how long it would take to train a Temp to fill your employee’s shoes while they’re out.
- Document procedures. Don’t let leave events be your only trigger to update Manuals or document procedures. Knowing that this can be a monumental task, start by taking an inventory of tasks and then documenting the essential ones first. Details that are taken for granted or aren’t intuitive can easily slip through, so take the Manual for a test spin: give it to someone else on the team who typically doesn’t perform that task and see if they can execute it without needing to ask for explanations.
- Cross-train where possible. When jobs don’t directly overlap, cross training helps mitigate impact when an employee is out. Understand each of your team member’s skill sets, potential, and be mindful of what’s not their strong suit for cross-training to be successful.
- Keep in mind that PFL is flexible – and your planning needs to account for that. Plan for the longest time your employee could be out – even if they don’t anticipate using it all at once. Circumstances and needs may change, and your employees can adjust their PFL duration and schedule to fit those needs.
- Foster a positive work and team atmosphere that allows your team members to feel comfortable to share their anticipated leave early.
The more prepared you are for an employee to take PFL leave, the easier it will be to mitigate impacts of the employee being out. For a complete look at PFL, including benefits, rates, eligibility, and more, take a look at our guide, The ABC’s of PFL.
Are you a soon-to-be mom?
Get Paid Family Leave tips for any stage of your pregnancy journey with this downloadable guide here!
To read about the next step in Steph's journey, please click here for Part 7.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal counsel. Please consult with an appropriate professional for legal and compliance advice. Any PFL information is as of the blog post’s date stamp; it is based on the applicable statutes and regulation, and may change as regulations evolve or NY State issues guidance regarding Paid Family Leave regulations. Have more questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org