Boss takes on family planning

With three high-risk pregnancies in his office, Craig Failing knew he needed help.

Photo by Mark Garvin

A three-way race for motherhood hit hard in the office of Craig Failing. Failing, director of audit for the Health System, learned in a two-month period that three members of his newly minted audit team (he himself had been at Penn less than half a year) were pregnant with their first babies. Two of them broke the news the same morning.

The three high-risk pregnancies meant he was temporarily losing 40 percent of the seven professional staff he had hired by that time. But he still had three hires to go, so his team would be short 60 percent.

What was a hard-working manager to do?

"The first thing I did was congratulate them," he said.

Then he sat down and talked.

A father of three, he was well aware of how any plans might be foiled by the facts of motherhood. "You really need to have a firm conversation about expectations," he said. "When they came back, was it going to be a full-time situation or was it going to be something different?"

And he also told the three - Internal Auditors Laurie Maxwell and Christina Melton, and Andrea Rodi - that whatever they planned, they had to expect to roll with the punches, because motherhood is not static.

Failing then called on Marilyn Kraut, Quality of Worklife Program coordinator in Human Resources. Kraut, who is a member of the Task Force on a Flexible Work Option.

Even though the task force had not yet established guidelines, Kraut found ways to help. "She was instrumental in helping us collectively go through this."

What they went through was figuring out how they could get the job done, babies and all.

"Every situation is different," Kraut said. "Craig was a real example of how to be flexible and responsive to individuals with special situations." While being responsive, however, he never lost sight of his need to get the job done.

For one thing, he hired a professional to join the audit team on a temporary basis.

For another, Failing knew from experience some things that worked, and he knew some of the pitfalls. And he knew he had employees who did not need daily supervision.

Two of the three are back at work full time, but they are in the office only part time. Maxwell and Melton keep connected to their work via computer, using a plan Melton had tested before she took her leave.

Rodi did not return. Her baby had needed surgery, and needed more mothering than work might permit.

"It's working out real well," Failing said.

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Originally published on October 29, 1998