Ben is a first-time dad to a lively one-year-old boy. After taking five months parental leave, Ben opens up about his personal experiences, why he’s now a better manager and the importance of providing working parents with flexibility.
We loved Ben’s honesty and hearing about his new-found perspective on why dads need to get amongst it.
Tell us about your role when you took parental leave.
I was working at a large digital company as a senior marketing manager looking after a team of seven. I took five months off. By the time I left the office, I was genuinely looking forward to spending time with my little one and experiencing something completely different.
Was the experience different to what you expected?
In some respects, yes. I imagined I would achieve a lot more in my time away from work. I had a lot of ideas in terms of what I could use the time for but really didn’t get much of it done.
What was the support like from your team? And from your manager?
Brilliant. They were all really excited for me and supported my choice. I certainly wasn’t the first in the team to do it. Unfortunately though, given it was five months, my team had to cover my work which was a big ask.
Did you stay in touch with your team while on leave?
Very occasionally. I made sure they knew that I was there if they needed anything however they rarely got in touch. In some respects, I would have loved to stay more involved.
Did you ever feel judged or excluded whilst on leave?
Judged no, excluded yes. Not sure if it’s a natural feeling but you do get a sense that things move on and leave you behind. The time off gave me time to think about my career and what is important to me. I actually ended up considering an alternative role that had been offered to me externally.
Wow, so the time off made you look at new opportunities?
Yes, it did. I was offered an opportunity elsewhere at the end of my leave period and decided to take it.
Has it made you look at parental leave differently?
On reflection I think it has made me a better manager and leader. I get it now. If I have someone on extended leave, I realise how important it is to touch base and keep them engaged. I can’t stress enough how important it is for men to have this opportunity—it’s massively important. For both their own experience and bonding with the little ones as well as having an appreciation as to what is involved in being a full-time carer.
As a people leader, has this experience changed how you manage those in your team?
It has definitely changed the way I manage people and my mindset regarding flexibility. Children have their own agenda and life doesn’t always go to plan. Giving parents the flexibility to accommodate a balanced family and work life can only create a greater outcome.
Currently few companies offer paid parental leave for men. What are your views on this?
I think we need to be more forward-thinking in terms of how we accommodate parents into working life. Primarily, we still work with a traditional five full-day working week and this just doesn’t work for parents with younger kids. Paid parental leave for men and women is an option, however I am sure there are others who would also like genuine flexibility.
The other responsibility is on men to step up and take on some of the burden. We need to see more progress on that.
How do you share the parenting role with your partner?
We try and split the role as much as we can. One does drop off, one does pick up from childcare. At the moment, I remain on a five-day week and my wife on a four-day week but we are open to change.
What are your tips for other men who may be reading this?
- I have a much greater appreciation for the demands of looking after a little one day in and day out as a dad and a manager of people.
- The first few weeks were really difficult. It felt like my life lost purpose. Being completely focused on one small human seems so insignificant but it really isn’t. My advice: write a daily list of things to get done. It helps make you feel like you are getting things done.
- Get used to the weird looks from older generations at the supermarket, especially women.
- Your career could be 50 years long but this is the only time you will get to see your children develop so quickly. It is rare and rewarding.