Maternity cover allows you to give staff opportunities

Valerie Morton offers advice on what to do when recruiting cover for staff who go on maternity leave

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: My operations director is going on maternity leave. What should I consider when appointing cover for her?

A: I am sure many managers in this situation are delighted for the new mother but, if they are honest, groan inwardly at the thought of the increased workload that might go with it. Let's look at the pros and cons of the various options.

Promoting from within to an acting position within the organisation has the advantage of avoiding the need for notice periods and induction processes, and can result in a seamless handover. However, it is important not to fall into the trap of skipping the recruitment process altogether.

A robust application and interview process might bring to your attention candidates you did not realise were qualified or interested. Just as importantly, it might reveal that the candidate who initially seemed like a shoo-in for the role does not, in fact, have the skills and experience necessary when matched against the person specification.

Political and practical

If the position subsequently becomes permanent, it can cause all sorts of political and practical problems if a member of staff feels disadvantaged because he or she was not given the opportunity to fill the interim post, or the temporary post-holder has the expectation that the job is theirs.

Anyone who has recently tried to fill an interim position externally will testify to the difficulty in finding the right person and managing the timings. If you need them to hit the ground running, then you should look into revising the person specification so that you recruit someone who either has experience of interim roles - and therefore understands the dynamics and issues - or who has the skills and confidence to get to grips with your charity quickly and can dive in to the immediate priority of relationship building. You are not recruiting for the same post on a short contract; it is a different post, even if some of the tasks are the same.

Temporary structure

Finally, you could try breaking down the work plan for the coming year into bite-sized chunks. There might be some time-limited projects that can easily be delegated to someone else. You might be able to look at a temporary staffing structure so that team members simply report to different managers for a time.

Team meetings could be set up and chaired by the team on a rotating basis. You might find that a high proportion of the workload can be shared out in this way. And, of course, this route is a great way of giving individuals development opportunities. Your director will no doubt be missed and welcomed back with open arms - in the meantime, the situation can be used to your advantage.

- Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

- Send your questions to

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