Parental Leave: 'Fathers Should Just Do It' - Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA

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Gütersloh/Cologne/Varberg/Willerby, 06/17/2016

Parental Leave: 'Fathers Should Just Do It'

Hüseyin Topkiran, Lars Thorsson, Colin Rowe, Christian Körner

Subject: Employees
Country: Germany
Category: Project

"Work-life balance is not just a woman's issue anymore," says the study "Integrating work and life" by the American consulting firm Bain & Company in January. A nearly equal number of women and men no longer consider just their careers when planning their lives but also have other priorities that are decisive. Integrating work and life is a special priority. Parental leave and part-time work are working models that are meeting increasing approval among men at Bertelsmann. Next Sunday is Father's Day in Turkey, the UK, France, the US and many other countries. For the occasion, four fathers from Sweden, Germany and the UK add their thoughts.

Colin Rowe, Head of Business Strategy & Planning, Arvato CRM UK, three daughters  (fourteen, ten and two and a half) and one son (eleven)

Whilst work and career are extremely important to me, upon the birth of my fourth child I was determined to spend more time with my daughter during her early months and years than I had with my previous three.

"I progressed because I worked hard, not because I worked full time"

The UK has traditionally had a culture in which a father would generally not take much paternity time or parental leave, although over the past few years this has changed, largely due to new legislation and organizations such as Arvato supporting a positive work life balance for their employees. Because of this supportive and flexible approach, I definitely did not see reducing my hours as something that would be a 'career killer'. I have even progressed in my career not because I have worked full time but because I have worked hard and added value to the business.

"Working part time has improved a number of my management skills"

Working part time hours has been an extremely positive experience. Not only have I been able to continue to balance my work and home life but I have also continued to advance my career at Arvato, where I have recently received another promotion. I've also improved a number of management skills such as time management and personal organization. My role requires me to be flexible, with work demands being driven by ever changing business needs. In managing this and in order to meet required deadlines, I have to ensure my work is very structured and organized, and that I delegate and communicate effectively with colleagues and clients. This not only helped me but also enabled some of my colleagues to further develop their skills and knowledge, enriching their job satisfaction as well. Businesses want happy, motivated and high performing employees. This is not defined by whether you are part time or full time but by what you produce and bring to the company whilst you are there.

"My colleagues and work culture could have not been more supportive"

In Arvato CRM UK, we proactively embrace new technologies such as video conferencing that save money, help employees to improve productivity and support a more positive work life balance. Whilst some aspects of my job require me to be in one of our office locations, much of my work can be performed remotely. Having this flexibility enables me to proactively manage my time – meaning that the business also gets more productive time from me. Moreover, I have been able to attend my children's events, which is equally important in achieving this balance.

"Decide what you want – and be open about it"

As an 'older (ish)' parent (I will be 47 at the end of this month) my advice is to ensure that what you decide to do is what you want and that you have a realistic vision of what this will mean to you and the business. Once you have decided that this is for you, then be open about it to help you make it happen.

Christian Körner, Head of Department, RTL Communications, one 7-year-old daughter, two 5-year-old sons

I definitely received questioning or doubtful looks from some of my colleagues, mostly from men, when I started talking about my plans to go on parental leave. It wasn't all that common in 2009. There was probably an occasional smug comment from the macho corner as well. However, this quickly gave way to curiosity when I mentioned that I planned on spending some quality downtime somewhere on the beach in Australia with my family. Quite often, this was followed by a whispered question about how I'd managed to "wangle" it.

"We've become a good trio"

For me, the time spent with my daughter, who was just nine month olds at the time, was incredibly valuable. Perhaps the fact that the three of us were able to spend so much time together every day really turned us into a good trio for the first time. And I not only understood but also experienced for myself how exhausting a job a family can be. My superiors responded with straightforward openness, perhaps because I was also able to convince them that after taking time off to spend with my family, I would devote myself wholeheartedly to my work duties again.

"A unique form of motivation"

As I see it, my parental leave was an upgrade for my job and also – without meaning to sound trite – for my life in general. Everyone knows that it's good to look at things from a distance every once in a while. You appreciate some things more than before, while others are put into perspective. To this day, I fondly think back on the experience the company made possible for me as a very special time. That in itself is a unique form of motivation and makes an employer even more attractive, particularly in view of increasingly complex work flows.

"Flexible working hours are standard practice with us"

We are a media company – with video offers on a variety of platforms, linear and non-linear, around the clock. So the need to communicate something can crop up at any time, and flexible working time models are standard practice with us. At the same time, I feel personal presence is important – in order to grow together as a team, to discuss critical or general matters, and to advance them. I'm usually in the office for eight to nine hours. There's also the occasional phone call, meeting or production in the evening and on weekends. And when there's an emergency, we're there. Nevertheless, I try to be home by seven o'clock as often as I can so I can take part in family life. I can write a few emails in the evening. And many other things can be organized – we do that at work too, after all.

"Young parents should just go for it!"

I would advise young parents to just go ahead and do it. This goes for the job itself and also for models that combine work and parenthood. Here in Cologne, more and more fathers are taking advantage of this opportunity now, and I am happy to support it, partly because it was my experience that having this time together makes a lot of processes run better – both at home and on the job. It does pay off.

Hüseyin Topkiran, employed in a works bindery of the Bertelsmann Printing Group, one 4-year-old daughter, triplets ten weeks old  

Building a career is really important to me, but so is my family. Therefore, following the birth of our daughter, I took two months parental leave in 2012. As far as I know, there were only a few fathers in the production unit who had done that before me. Two and a half months ago, I became the father of triplets. Triplets mean a lot of work, so I wanted to support my wife the best as I could. When I approached my boss about my desire to take four months parental leave, he reacted very positively – as did my colleagues.

"Parental leave? I only have positive things to report"

In the production unit, people are very flexible: you do not just operate a single machine but rotate around and help each other. I only have positive things to report. All in all, quite a few things have changed here: fathers are more courageous and take on the many jobs at home with much more self-confidence today. Those who can afford it therefore go on a parental leave. Our employer is aware of this and looks at the issue in a very solution-oriented way. Of course, we really appreciate this – it's great.

"Parental leave is much more demanding than the job"

My wife also works and therefore we have always shared the work at home. Now I'm on parental leave, and what can I say? I'd have an easier time at work – but I decided to do it again. Children are small only once. If you miss out on this time, you can never catch up. With careers that's a bit different.

"We don't have flexible working hours and home offices – but we have great colleagues and supervisors"

The working hours in production are rather rigid – you can't change that. There are specific shifts you have to do. But in case of emergency, for example if my child is ill, my employer is flexible. This is what really makes our book bindery an outstanding employer. Parental leave is truly exhausting, but nobody can take the experience from you – this is great time full of miracles, and you will never forget it.  

Lars Thorsson, Head of Business Development, Arvato Financial Solutions Sweden, one son, 1 year

For me, it was natural to take parental leave so I could get to know my son well from an early age and to be a part of his daily life with each new step. I do not believe my parental leave will be a career blocker. I think it is possible to combine a job with family life and that it makes a company that much more attractive as an employer if you are able to do so. All in all, it is a very short time out of your total working life.

"Parental leave enriches my job as well as my personal life" 

Parental leave enriches my job as well as my personal life. It gives me perspective and distance to my work, which I believe will help me meet challenges in new ways. I also need to work on my flexibility and patience every day in order to get things done. This, I believe, will be useful at work when an envisioned solution does not take you to the planned goal and you need to rethink.

"Arvato supports flexible solutions"

Face-time is relevant in our division but not crucial. A lot of conversations and meetings are held via Skype, which works well but does not totally eliminate the need to meet face to face on occasion. I commute an hour each way to work and, in order to combine work with family life, I will be on parental leave part time for a few months when I return to work. Arvato also lets me work remotely one or two days a week if it suits my schedule, which enables me to be home and enjoy some time with my son before bedtime.

"If you want it, just do it!"

My advice is that if you and your spouse want to and are able to share parental leave, you should definitely do it. This will benefit both of you, your family and your work. I am sure you won't regret that you took the opportunity. I also think it is important in terms of both equality and gender perspective that both parents take parental leave. 

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