The subject of taking parental leave has always been met with strong opinions. With New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern choosing to take advantage of parental leave whilst in office last year, the topic of taking parental leave as an executive takes on even more significance. Although a leader juggling work and family life is nothing new, it certainly presents its own unique challenges. Many of the Executives we speak to have found themselves facing similar hurdles and here is some of their advice on successfully taking parental leave and transitioning back to work smoothly.
Get a Head Start
Going on parental leave as an executive requires planning ahead of time. Decide unequivocally what is going to work for you and your family. Keep in mind that there’s no single right way to approach it, whether it’s taking six weeks parental leave as Jacinda did, or a six-month hiatus. Either way, once the objectives are clear, it becomes much easier to develop a blueprint for teams to follow.
Consider how to prepare the business for your inevitable absence. Obviously, there are going to be a whole list of daily, weekly and monthly responsibilities that require attention. Decide how the role will be best covered. Will it be through an interim leader? Someone else in the business stepping into your shoes? Or will there be multiple people involved to share the workload?
Invest in Knowledge Transfer
From client history to specific tasks and issue resolution, it is essential to address the questions you get asked on a daily basis. Some of the ways to cultivate this is to:
- Galvanise formal structures for delegation and knowledge sharing. Make sure staff understand what is required of them. The initial stages of this process may require frequent check ins, until they learn to complete the task independently.
- Cross train by utilising different teams. Not only will this encourage other staff to step up, but also fosters new skills, heightens their value to the business and even combats job atrophy.
This way, parental leave ultimately carves a developmental opportunity, rather than being a temporary loss of a key employee.
Try a Pilot Exercise
Going on leave without testing the blueprint could see it unravelling at the seams. In the months leading up to your maternity or paternity leave, implement a realistic pilot exercise. Whilst you would be contactable in emergencies, it’s still worthwhile taking one or two weeks annual leave and testing out what works well, and any aspects of the plan that doesn’t. By discovering any preparation gaps, it gives you time to get it right by adjusting accordingly at a later date.
Being Away and Transitioning Back
If you are on parental leave – whether it’s three, six or nine months – engaging with the business during this time is critical, although the level of interaction is completely up to you. As long as realistic expectations are set from the beginning, then everyone is likely to be on the same page. However, if someone is doing your role during your absence, be sure to let them!
Establish a communication plan outlining how and when the team can get in touch. Many of the executives we have spoken to suggest nominating one or two people as the main channels of contact, with everyone else reporting to them in order to reach you. With that said, it may be wise to lay certain boundaries to your communication so that pressures at home and in the office are balanced. It might be that you prefer emails only, with phone calls set for a particular time of day and any emergencies sent through texts. Other options could be meeting in a relaxed setting (away from the office) for a top-line overview. It’s also worth having a system in place to receive positive news too. After all, you don’t want to just be hearing about all the issues that are occurring!
When returning from parental leave, it can certainly be difficult to balance a regular workload whilst simultaneously negotiating the travails of sleepless nights, childcare woes and sicknesses, especially in the early days. Rather than jumping straight back into the foray of work, consider a transition period. This could include one or a mix of:
- Working from home.
- Compressing or adjusting hours.
- Staggering your return to work.
These strategies will offer some respite to balance the needs of a new family alongside the demands of a leadership role. Bare in mind, it’s difficult to predict how you will feel about work once the baby is born. Engender a flexible approach and take into account all options in case circumstances don’t go as expected.
Going on parental leave as a leader poses a unique set of challenges. The key to minimising the void left by your absence is planning well in advance. Once all systems and preparations are put in place, you’ll generally find that teams will step up to the plate and keep the business moving in the direction it needs to go. Some of the best advice from the executives we have partnered with is to “Expect the unexpected” and resist putting too much pressure on yourself. For more advice on how best to take parental leave as a leader or to discuss your recruitment needs, get in touch with the OnTalent team.