Reader: I work in a very small office. One of my co-workers went on maternity leave for about two months. While most of her projects could go on hiatus, I had to pick up the ones that could not. Our supervisor was aware that I was handling these tasks in her absence. Upon my co-worker’s return, I e-mailed her all the pertinent information related to what I’d done on her projects.
Neither my co-worker nor our boss thanked me at all for picking up this extra work. Am I wrong to feel somewhat hurt and taken for granted? Or is it just an expectation these days that, since maternity leave is a right, you don’t owe your co-workers any thanks for carrying your water when you utilize it?
Karla: In fairness to your co-worker, I can attest that onboarding a new family member consumes most of one’s mental and physical resources, even after an “easy” delivery. (Imagine those quotation marks as two pairs of eye rolls.) Returning to a full inbox after a week of R&R is hard enough; facing that inbox after two months of providing round-the-clock care, sticky and sleep deprived, can be overwhelming.
So cut her a little slack for now. Once she seems settled, ask how she’s doing and whether there were any issues with the projects you handled. (Maybe don’t use the phrase “carrying your water.”) That gentle tap with a padded clue-by-four might help her recall her manners.
You can be more direct with your boss: “Now that Colleague is back, I’d like to take a few days off to recharge.” Sometimes you have to thank yourself.
Incidentally, I can’t let your statement that maternity leave is a “right” slide by unchallenged. In the United States, the only “right” a postpartum worker is guaranteed is the same 12 weeks’ unpaid leave granted to anyone who qualifies to receive or provide care under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Any “maternity leave” beyond that is by the grace of banked PTO or a generous employer.
But our nation’s paltry parental leave policies don’t justify cheesing off the rest of the village, or leaning disproportionately on child-free colleagues to make a workplace “family friendly.” That’s how mommy wars start.
So, on behalf of all grateful professionals with kids: Thank you for taking on your colleague’s workload during her absence. Should you ever need extended personal time off, you deserve equivalent support, and I hope she’s first in line to reciprocate.
Or, if she’s genuinely just ungrateful and self-absorbed, you can draw some satisfaction from the knowledge that, as a parent, she’s going to become all too aware what it feels like to take on extra work with nary a word of thanks.
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