When you love your work and your career, it’s really hard to ‘hand over’ your team, your clients, your projects and your accounts for 6 months or more. Very often you’re leaving them in the hands of a stranger. Yes it’s the nightmare of the maternity leave replacement.
This crops up in conversations with my clients all the time. How scary it is to put your trust in the replacement. You need to trust that she is not going to spoil everything; damage your reputation; bungle the projects you’ve been working on; or restructure your team in your absence. Never mind the horror stories we hear on pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
On the one hand, you want the replacement to be as good as you so that everything runs smoothly. Your clients don’t leave. Your staff don’t quit. The team performs well and hits its targets.
On the other hand …. you don’t want this stranger to be as good as you. You don’t want them to win over all your clients. To fit right in. To have more experience. More knowledge. More expert authority. You certainly don’t want your staff to idolise her (or him) and leave when she leaves.
I’m not the only woman in that tricky dilemma of recruiting your own replacement for maternity leave cover. Caught between a rock and a hard stone, you want your replacement to be good. But not too good. (During one maternity leave, my replacement tried to ‘steal’ my promotion while I was away – more on that another day).
Tonight’s show on BBC One really plays to that nightmare scenario of the maternity leave replacement. Ellen lands a big contract for her firm of architects and then falls unexpectedly pregnant. When she hires Paula as the replacement, she soon fears she has made a terrible mistake. Ellen loves her career and is in no doubt that she wants to get back to work quickly. But the replacement, Paula (and already a mum), has other ideas. She thinks Ellen should be focusing on her baby, not her work.
While Ellen is scared that she is being forced out and that Paula is quick to move in – not just on her bosses, but on her clients and friends too, everybody else thinks that Paula is great. Even her husband thinks she’s being overly sensitive and paranoid. But then he knows about her previous mental history. Is Paula being manipulative or is she simply trying to do a good job?
These maternity leave nightmare scenarios crop up all the time in the conversations I have with my clients. Who hasn’t had their mental state questioned by colleagues when pregnant. Who hasn’t worried that their manager is cutting you out of conversations. Who doesn’t fear that the replacement will damage your reputation; steal your promotion; or restructure the team in your absence.
While you might be tempted to ring your work colleagues every couple of weeks to check how the replacement is working out (secretly hoping the answer is “terrible”), let’s not forget that The Replacement is fiction.
No matter how good (or bad) your replacement, while the majority of employers say they are firm supporters of female staff during and after pregnancy, according to research published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, three in four (77%) mothers say they have had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience at work.
So caught between a rock and a hard stone, you need your replacement to be good. But not too good. After all, you don’t want your replacement to ‘steal’ your clients or your reputation while you’re away.