Welcoming a new family member is (mostly!) a joy, but finding the right balance with your time, especially when returning to work, can be a challenge.
We sat down with 3 of our pack, who’ve recently returned from parental leave, to understand how they've found it and to share their tips!
- Franki Lake, Senior Product Manager
- Henry Ellis, Commercial Finance Manager
- Dorit Dorner, Marketing Manager - Germany
1. Tell us about your new additions and how you've chosen to manage your parental leave?
Franki: We have a little boy, who is now 16 months old. I took 11 months off, giving 1 month to my husband on shared parental leave. We used the time to take 2 months as a family to explore Scandinavia, which I would highly recommend!
Henry: Summer joined our family in August - she’s our first child and we’re besotted with her. My wife Plum and I both work at tails.com and we wanted to take time together as a family.
I took one month paternity when Summer was born, with the plan being I would work until the end of 2022, then we would take 4 months shared parental leave together January - April, before both returning to work. However, tails.com recently changed its parental leave benefits to make them more generous, so while I’ll still be back at work at the start of May, my wife is now able to take a full year of leave, meaning Summer gets to spend the first year of her life at home.
Dorit: We had a baby boy who's now coming up to 2 years old. I was really lucky to be able to use up a whole year and a bit of maternity leave to look after my energetic, smart and handsome bundle of joy.
2. What were the most unexpected parts of becoming a parent?
Franki: Honestly, the monotony of a repetitive daily life after such a varied and fast-paced work life. And that when I arrive at work at 9am I feel like I’ve already worked a half day!
Henry: You can do as much research as you want, but nothing prepares you for the emotional impact of becoming a parent. It changes your outlook and, quite rightly, your priorities. And it all happens while you’re sleep deprived, learning new skills and grappling with a small screaming wriggle-bag who you love, but has also turned your world upside-down.
And, don’t underestimate the emotional impact on your dog if you have one! Elmo is an integral part of our family, but she was certainly the least prepared of the household.
Dorit: The huge love and bond that’s created between child and parents. Lots of oxytocin hitting you left, right and centre. But equally the huge exhaustion that can sometimes get in the way. It’s okay to not plan the whole week, month or year ahead, as every day is different and it's best to take every day step by step. And just like that time just flies…
3. What's the most helpful thing that work or colleagues can do to support you while you're off and when you're back?
Franki: While off - using keep in touch days to stay in the loop with company meetings, socials and workshops helps you feel connected without being overwhelmed.
On returning - give you grace. Everyone has been so understanding every time the baby has a bug, or when I’ve worked odd hours for various reasons. I wouldn’t have survived without this.
Dorit: While you’re off and mainly in your own bubble, figuring out the new way of life with a child, it can be helpful to be taken out of that for a few moments. Having a catch up, via phone or in person is a great way to stay in touch and feel connected to work.
Later, keep in touch days are a great opportunity to ease back into work, understanding new ways of working and changes that happened while you’ve been doing the most rewarding job in life.
Henry: I’ve worked with my manager for 6 years and we’ve built up a huge amount of trust, which means I've been able to be very honest about what I've found difficult and he’s offered great advice both personally and professionally. That trust and honesty is so important.
Everyone is different, but we DID get gifted a fabulous tails.com baby hoodie and a disco light which has kept Summer entertained for hours at a time, so I’d recommend those regardless of individual.
4. Have your working habits evolved since becoming a parent?
Franki: I have to be more flexible with my time to manage around nursery, and illnesses. I’m much better at protecting my time off and taking regular considered breaks in the day so I don’t burn out. I’m more efficient and structured so I can leave at the end of the day in a good place.
Henry: I moved to a 4 day week in 2022, and I've kept this up since Summer came along. Being in the office means I can focus on getting things done without the distractions of home, while working closely with my team who follow a similar hybrid working style.
I’m much stricter with over-working - I want to be home for bath time and to help as much as possible, so I make an effort to manage expectations clearly, while being ruthless with prioritising the most important things.
Dorit: Yes, I’ve come back on a reduced working schedule, and it’s really important for me and my manager to be efficient with our time.
5. What would your advice be to businesses and managers to help support a positive experience of both taking leave and returning to work?
Henry: Be empathetic and understanding of the significant changes this is going to have on your employee - there will be a period of adjustment whatever happens, but you’ve got to make reasonable adjustments.
And, to go back to what I said before, have honest conversations about what is and isn’t working on both sides, only when everything is out on the table can you work through the right path to have a positive experience!
Dorit: Strong support can be established by making sure parents on parental leave feel included. That can be through inviting them to most important events like company celebrations , company meetings or important company updates.
Franki: I found deciding on length of leave and the admin around it quite daunting. Laying out a simple process (maybe a powerpoint with a timeline and links to key steps, advice and documents) would be very helpful...