To help level the playing field for women in the workplace, a growing number of businesses are striving to offer enhanced paternity leave for mums and dads. The idea is that if organisations can try to gender-balance parental leave it will show that having a fulfilling career can be family-friendly too.
However, it’s fair to say work still needs to be done to encourage men to take more than the statutory two weeks leave. Statistics released by the Department of Business last year show just 2% of couples are taking advantage of shared parental leave, while a quarter of men say there is still a stigma about dads taking time off to look after children, according to a LinkedIn survey of 4,000 UK workers.
Being one of the first men in an organisation to take enhanced paternity leave is undoubtedly a daunting task.
Tom Pepper, head of marketing solutions for LinkedIn UK, was one of the first fathers in the business to take six weeks paternity leave when the policy was extended from the two-week minimum around 18 months ago. Despite his daughter already being born when the changes were announced, Pepper realised he was eligible as the policy was being backdated by six months.
Aware that it had been difficult to get the work/life balance right when his son was born, Pepper wanted to strike a better balance following the birth of his daughter. As a leader within the business, he also saw it as a brilliant opportunity to role model the change. That’s not to say that making the decision to take six weeks of parental leave was easy, though.
“Based on the long legacy of a career in advertising I had this nagging doubt about the perception of me taking advantage of this benefit and taking such a big chunk of time out,” Pepper recalls.
“I think secondly, letting go of work for six weeks was also scary. And even though it’s only six weeks it felt like – particularly with a new role in a fast-paced environment – there would be decisions being made and handing that over for six weeks gave me anxiety.”
Despite his concerns, when Pepper asked his manager about the possibility of taking parental leave the answer was an immediate yes. With his request signed-off, Pepper talked to the marketing solutions team and his new leadership team, explaining the rationale driving his decision and why he was keen to “go all in” on the experience, not just work from home for six weeks.
He also decided to be vocal about the decision amongt his wider network, sharing the news on his LinkedIn profile.
I had a very positive experience and I think any anxieties I had about the impact on work were completely dispelled.
Tom Pepper, LinkedIn
Eighteen months on from his six-week leave, Pepper reflects that it’s all about getting through the first week and staying out of your email inbox, after which point he felt like he could genuinely switch off for the first time in years.
He does, however, admit that returning to the office after six weeks away was much harder than expected.
“Comparing it to predominantly mums who have maternity leave and come back after nine months or 12 months it seemed insignificant what I’d done, but it was really interesting how out-of-sync I felt,” Pepper states.
“I remember in my first leadership meeting just feeling a little overwhelmed because the business had moved on in six weeks and it was about getting back up-to-speed with the meeting and the pace of work, from the terminology we use to the way we forecast, the nuts and bolts of the role. It took me a while to get back into the rhythm of things.”
As a leader, Pepper feels taking enhanced paternity leave means he now has greater understanding of people who are coming back to work after a period of time away. It has also given him a greater sense of perspective, while being able to switch off proved totally energising.
Part of striking the right balance going forward has meant making concrete changes to his working day. Now, Pepper comes into work earlier and leaves earlier to spend more quality time with his family, even if that means catching up on emails once the kids have gone to bed.
That being said, work rarely spills into his family life as he has become much more “ruthless” with his time at work. Another upside since taking the leave is that more people come to talk to him about everything from taking parental leave to asking for flexible working.
As a leader, Pepper believes it is crucial to be visible and vocal about committing to a career that works for your family, although he admits that was not always easy to begin with.
“I’ve been working in this industry for 20 years and I’ve worked in environments where the hours you’re in the office are an indicator of success. That’s not the case here at LinkedIn, but it was still a little nagging doubt in my mind if I get up from my desk at 4.30pm and I walk out of the office to go home,” he explains.
“But, actually I think it has a really positive effect so people are then comfortable to be flexible with their hours and make it work for them. That’s the message I’m trying to send, it’s not just for parents, it’s for everyone.”
Having taken the six weeks out, Pepper believes any fathers who have the option to should grab enhanced parental leave with both hands.
“I had a very positive experience and I think any anxieties I had about the impact on work were completely dispelled,” he adds. “If anything, I came back to a more energised, empowered team which has had a super positive impact on our business and our teams.”