As if the industrial-size box of crackers in my cube and hourly sprints to the bathroom weren't big enough clues, I told my boss I was pregnant just a couple of days after I saw those two little pink lines on the stick. I'm a notorious blabbermouth, and I was so excited I just couldn't hold it in.
Without making an appointment, I knocked on her door, sat down, and blurted, "So … looks like I'm pregnant!" Looking back, it wasn't my best idea ever: I went into a potentially stressful discussion about my work life before I even knew what kind of maternity leave my company offered. Thankfully, my boss jumped out from behind her desk, gave me a huge hug (a workplace version of the high-school squee), and didn't press me into a serious conversation about my plans.
Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, has much better advice for you about breaking the big news at work. Her step-by-step guide is so simple that, well, a baby could follow it!
Step 1: Decide when to spill it.
"There's no hard-and-fast rule about how far along you should be before you tell your boss about a baby," says Galinsky. Most women prefer to wait until the end of the first trimester, just to make sure their pregnancy is going well. It really depends on your comfort level (and when you start showing, of course). Don't start haggling over details of your maternity leave the first time you break the news; save that for later.
Step 2: Set a date to talk it all through.
Delete that draft e-mail—discussing who will handle your work while you're gone is a conversation you need to have in person, Galinsky advises. Set a time to meet with your manager, then research your options and think through what you want to say.
Step 3: Know what you're entitled to.
Now's a good time to dust off the company handbook and read up on how your workplace handles maternity leave. Some companies offer employees a certain amount of paid leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but only when an employer has more than 50 staffers.
Step 4: Make a plan.
You don't have to figure out every last detail, but it's good to come with a few alternatives for how your work might be covered while you're out, notes Galinsky. Also, remember: Your boss may be the warmest Earth Mother on the planet, but if she had one bad experience managing a maternity leave she may be wary. If you can, get the scuttlebutt beforehand and assure your manager that you plan to prevent those very complications. If the office grapevine reveals, for instance, that the last woman left an important project unfinished, assure your boss that you will be sure to tie up all loose ends before you head out.
Step 5: Work out the timing.
Let your boss know how long you think you might be out of work, but be careful not to over-promise. "As for negotiating your leave, it is better to go to the HR person if your organization has one. This should prevent your having to renegotiate your leave if your boss changes," says Galinsky. That way, the only surprise you get during your pregnancy is finding out if you're having a boy or a girl!
Step 6: Touch base.
True, your giant belly will remind your boss that you will be departing shortly, but plan to meet with her again about a month before your leave to recap plans and answer any questions.
Now you can look forward to your three-month "vacation!" Spend your time off gazing adoringly at your baby, going through your days in a sleep-deprived fog, or both—and don't worry about what's going on at the office. Rest assured, they'll survive just fine without you.