According to Statistics Canada, 90% of working mothers take maternity leave, and their average leave is approximately 44 weeks (even though Canadians can receive up to 50 weeks). While the birth of a child is truly a momentous occasion, a mother on maternity leave can be disruptive for an organization that isn’t prepared for her departure or return. In some cases, the workload can be disbursed among other employees. However, this isn’t always an option and many organizations opt to hire a maternity leave replacement while the mother is away.

As long as you plan ahead and manage the process well, maternity leave doesn’t have to be a problem for your organization. The following information offers some suggestions and tips for making maternity leave transitions as smooth as possible.

Planning for the Best Maternity Leave Replacement

One of the great benefits of hiring for a maternity leave replacement versus a regular replacement is you usually have a lot of forewarning and time to plan. Because babies can arrive much earlier than expected, it’s best practice to get started on maternity leave planning as soon as you learn the mother is expecting.

In addition to finding a maternity leave replacement, many organizations ask other employees to take on additional responsibilities. If this is the case, all key decision makers need to carefully plan which tasks will be distributed to existing team members and which will be assigned to a replacement. If colleagues will be taking on added responsibility try to offset that by passing off less important tasks to a temporary replacement.

A maternity leave replacement doesn’t necessarily have to be a cookie cutter of the current role. Look at your business needs as a whole to decide where it makes sense for a temporary employee to step in.

Recruiting a Maternity Leave Replacement

To recruit for the best maternity leave replacement, you should use the same principles you use to find any temporary replacement. It all starts with defining the scope of the role and developing a clear description of the ideal candidate. Take this opportunity to get feedback from the expecting mother on the job description and discuss what skills and attributes they feel would make someone more successful in the role.

Adaptability and good communication skills will be especially important when hiring for maternity leave coverage. Having someone who will take initiative and speak up without being asked will reduce the ramp up time and integrate easier into the workplace.

Training the Temporary Replacement

If possible, you should have the permanent employee train their replacement. You can do this by effectively phasing the mother’s workload off to the replacement. Before the mother goes out for full maternity leave, you should make sure she leaves detailed instructions. This includes details of any important contacts e.g. suppliers, clients.

When you find a suitable replacement, it’s important you focus on getting them comfortable in their new position in the most efficient manner as possible. Throughout the tenure of the replacement, you should focus on offering training support and guidance when necessary. The higher the level of training and support you offer the maternity leave replacement, the more likely the transition will be successful.

If possible, you should attempt to stay in touch with the mother throughout her maternity leave. As the leave period draws closer to the end, having open communication with both sides earlier will help alleviate any unnecessary stress. Discuss next steps for phasing the mother back in and any future plans for the temporary employee.

Common Mistakes

Some organizations go about finding a maternity leave wrong by unnecessarily delaying the process. When you delay, you could end up with the wrong person, waste time and money, and have to repeat the process in the end.

For any business, the key for effectively finding for the optimum replacement starts with planning and having excellent communication throughout the process. Even with the most effective planning, things can quickly change once the child is born. As managers, a little extra empathy and understanding can go a long way when managing these relationships.