A reader asks:
One of the people on my team announced she was pregnant. I was thrilled for her and wanted to be a supportive manager. Our company is too small to qualify for FMLA but we do have our own program that allows for 12 weeks of paid medical leave. I went beyond that and allowed her eight extra weeks of paid leave on top of that, plus as much vacation time as she wanted to use. We're too small for this to be required by law, but I was able to convert one of our old spaces into a pumping room with a locking door, chair, sink, and outlet, and we told her we would pay her for her pumping breaks. I also set up a flexible schedule for when she returned to work. I looked into our insurance plan and found out she could get a pump covered and I sent her info on that.
I was surprised that she chose to come back to work at eight weeks and not take the full medical leave or the extra time I arranged for her. She didn't use the pumping room because she didn't breastfeed at all, and she wouldn't use the flexible schedule I got her. She worked her normal hours. I'm disappointed that I set all this up for her, only for her not to use any of it.
I reminded her several times about the flexible schedule and let her know breastfeeding and pumping was still possible. She says her husband works for himself and the plan was always for her to go back soon while he had the baby part-time and the baby was in daycare part-time. She said she never planned to breastfeed and formula was fine, and she told me she doesn't feel bad for choosing to work when she could afford to stay home and not breastfeeding even though she could have.
I don't understand why she wouldn't want the perks I worked so hard to set up. I am disappointed in her and having a hard time getting over it. I had to quit my job when I was pregnant because there was no support for working moms. I'm having a hard time understanding why she wouldn't want the perks I would have killed for back then. She went right back to work like she never even left. I admit I'm at a loss.
Because people are different. Some people would have been thrilled with all the arrangements you made, and others would have appreciated the thought but not wanted to use them. That's OK -- everyone gets to make their own choices.
You went wrong in two places here. The first was in arranging all of this for her without finding out if she'd want it. Maybe you didn't check with her first because you didn't want to get her hopes up if you turned out not to be able to make some of this happen, or maybe you just assumed she'd want it. But whenever you're making arrangements for someone without their OK -- even if you think it's highly likely that they'll be thrilled when they find out -- you have to be OK with the possibility that they'll have other plans and preferences.
The second place where you went wrong is a lot more serious: You came across as meddling in her personal, private decisions about her baby. Whether or not she breastfeeds is 100 percent not your business. And pressuring her to stay home longer than she wants -- and showing disappointment that she didn't want to stay home longer -- gets into really icky policing of other women's personal decisions. It sounds like you made her feel judged and pressured about her very personal and private choices -- and that's inappropriate for anyone to do, but triply so when you're the boss.
There are a ton of reasons why she might not have wanted the perks you arranged, and none of them are your business. You can be privately disappointed that you went to so much trouble and it turned out not to be needed, but you don't have any standing to a) show it, or b) be disappointed in her actual choices. They're hers, and they presumably work well for her, and you're not entitled to any insight into why. That's between her and her partner, and no one else.
You started out with your heart in the right place: You went to bat to support a new mom and make her life easier. But somewhere along the way, you lost sight of your goal -- to support this particular new mom in the ways that worked best for her. You got too invested in her decisions, and took it too personally when she made different decisions than you expected.
The best thing you can do is to apologize and then leave this all alone. Tell your employee that you should not have assumed you knew what arrangements she'd want, and that you're sorry that you weren't more respectful of her personal and private choices. Emphasize "personal" and "private," since those were the concepts that were missing before. And assure her that you've learned your lesson and that you'll limit your support to what she tells you she needs -- and that if she doesn't need anything, that's fine too.
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