The Wall Street Journal gives terrible advice this week on “going from maternity leave to permanent resignation.”
Columnist Sue Shellenbarger writes, “Once a mother is absolutely sure she isn’t going to return to work after maternity leave, I believe she’s obligated to reveal her intentions to her employer.”
WHY? There is no description in the column about the genesis of this obligation. Is it a moral obligation to protect corporate America from having to support families?
Listen to me: Take that leave, and don’t feel guilty. The United States is the only country in the developed world that does not provide national, paid maternity leave. So the few women in the US who can actually take maternity leave have EARNED it. The law gives these women the RIGHT to take that maternity leave regardless of what happens afterwards.
Shellenbarger also warns that you will “burn your bridges” by taking maternity leave and then quitting. She writes this as if it’s a national trend to rehire women after they take extended leave for children. In fact, it’s just the opposite: Most companies do not take you back after leave. And companies that do are notable exceptions. (Anyway, I would not even want to go back to a boss if he were the bitter-about-maternity-leave type, so why bother appeasing him?)
Here’s the advice the Wall Street Journal should have given: Don’t tell anyone at work that you’re not coming back after the baby. Collect all your maternity leave money and do not feel guilty. Call at the end of leave and say you’re not coming back. Tell your boss you’re sorry to put him in a difficult position, but everything feels different once the baby is there. That is true. It is not lying.
Please, do not feel guilty. That women take maternity leave and then quit is a result of the system being totally flawed. It is absurd to presume that women know if they want to continue working before they know what it’s like to be home all day with a baby. And it is unreasonable that the workplace cannot provide a decent number of baby-friendly jobs so that women who want to continue working can without compromising their own health (exhaustion) or their baby’s (too much separation).
In fact, quitting right after maternity leave is not so uncommon, says Laura Shelton, who has done extensive research about Gen X women at the office. She suggests that advice like the Wall Street Journal’s is a result of a generation gap — boomers like Shellenbarger just don’t get it: Boomers fought to get women into he workplace but boomers ignored maternity benefits.
Maybe your boss will take some advice from Shellenbarger’s source, Don Sutaria, who gives companies some good advice: Hire a temporary worker who could stay on as permanent if the maternity leave turns into full leave.
And while you’re pregnant, train the temp well. This will make you feel better if you decide not to return to work, and it’ll even make you feel better if you do return because someone will have kept your work in order.