Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Ask Vijay: “My Team Member Wants a Long Leave.”

Posted on: May 10, 2008

Question: How do I deal with it, if my team member suddenly comes up to me and asks for a long leave since she is expecting and also wouldnt be able to put in regular hours like the others?

It seems to be a baby boom season. Quite a lot of people in circles I know are expecting and shuddering as to how to tell their immediate bosses, the news and the fact that they will be taking a slighter long period in the near future.

There is a team that I am personally mentoring where the team lead is a lady, and she is expecting a baby. I am actually a little stuck as to how to deal with this situation – partly cause I haven’t dealt with a situation like this before. Atleast a month ago, I was.

When you are bootstrapping a company, especially one where there are a total of five people, one not being able to give a total 100% usually translates to 20% of your company underperforming – When its your lead, there are a whole lot of other complications that come into the picture.

Don’t get me wrong. Motherhood is an amazing thing and I am thankful to my mom for all the things she went through to bring me into this world. My mom, I believe also managed to work through the pregnancy and took very few days off – apart from the maternity leave that was granted. My mom isn’t the only example. There are countless number of women, and quite a few of them that I quite admire who have managed parenthood, and a professional life – but its quite a balancing act, and have no doubt about it.

This post is not about them though. I am so very not qualified to handle that topic. I should take on a guest blogger to write about that, but instead, this topic is about how a startup should be prepared.

A startup team is small, precious and very fragile. That said, it is also under a lot of stress to deliver. A startup team is also extremely friendly, more family-oriented than big businesses can be, and are also very supportive of the individualistic needs and passions.

With that set, the advice to plan for a scenario like this is quite simple. What if one of the folks working for you fell sick, broke a bone or caught chicken pox and disappeared for two months? You should look at this as something similar, except here you know exactly when the person would be taking off.

That is probably one of the most simplest and realistic ways to drop it. All panic and initial hysteria aside, the beauty about situations like this is that there is time ahead to plan for the temporary replacement or work shuffling with someone in the organization. I am expecting that the staff is more open about it, and can give you a heads up much ahead of time, but if and when it does happen, don’t panic. You can always plan your way around it.

Start off with this:

1. Sit down with the person and have a chat. Acknowledge the situation and tell her that its okay. Let her calm down a bit.

2. Take a realistic and last week account of how and when she’s been able to come to work and if the new state of things is affecting her performance. You will notice that she has been coming to late in the mornings, but that is expected. Prepare for it.

3. When setting up meetings with clients or partners and if her presence is going to be required, do ask for her approval, and no matter what she says dont setup an early morning meeting. Even she doesnt know how she’ll feel on the morning of the said date.

4. Break the news to her as to how the team is going to stay on top of things when she would be gone. If you are going to be bringing in a temporary replacement, assure her that the replacement is just a temporary one and her job will be waiting for her when she comes back – whenever she is ready.

5. Give her the option as to how she wants to move forward with the plan. Different folks take different timelines to recover and get back to work. If she is going to be gone for sometime, do check with your leave policies and reconcile with her if she will be granted materinity leave, or if it will be on loss of pay. Startups cant afford to keep both a temporary replacement and a full-time staff on payroll for the same job at the sametime. But clarifying it with her would really help and relieve some stress.

6. Dont panic. Be supportive, and if there is someone in the office, preferably a female staff who can interface with her on any needs she might have, that’s a lot of good deed that you could do.

I have always said that its better to hire folks from the opposite gender when it comes to bootstrapping a company. They take much better ownership of their tasks, and their loyalty levels are much higher compared to most men. That said, once a while when momentous occassions as such do happen in the life of the team members who do contribute the most, we also need to turn back and return the gratitude, with a courteous “We’ll be here for you”.

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