Becoming a parent is an incredible milestone, yet many parents aren’t able to enjoy it with confidence. I’ve always been an advocate for fair parental leave policies, as it allows parents to better balance themselves at home and work, while also promoting gender equality at work. Now that my (amazing) daughter Shira is turning two, I’d like to share what I’ve learned during my experience on parental leave. I hope to help new parents better prepare for their parental leaves and help company founders see the value of having a thoughtful and fair leave policy.
Parental leave isn’t a “mini-sabbatical.”
I laugh about it now but when I first went on parental leave, I had a list of a dozen passion projects I wanted to complete — getting back to coding, reuniting with old friends, and even producing a music video for my cover of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” I thought to myself: I’m going to have all of this spare time. This is going to be great!
But none of it got done — not a single thing. Parental leave isn’t a mini-sabbatical or a vacation; instead, it’s time dedicated to helping people you love most with utmost focus. I spent all day and all night supporting my wife, Sara, and bonding with Shira; and it’s a lovely thing because how often do we get to be devoted 24/7 to someone else?
Looking back, parental leave was probably the most focused I’ve ever been in a two-month period, including my time in military boot camp or being in Y Combinator’s startup accelerator program. More importantly, the time I spent with my family built an incredible foundation for my relationship with Shira. Other parents should do the same if they have the opportunity.
Your parental leave will be an opportunity for others to shine.
A few weeks before I went on parental leave, I wanted to set expectations with my team. I wrote a two-page document to make sure there would be continuity. Each line of the list outlined my day-to-day responsibilities and the relevant owner I’d empowered in the meantime. I made it clear that I would only be reading email on Fridays, but if anything was urgent, I was just a call or text away.
Of course, I ended up checking my email and phone more than once a week. I expected emails with urgent subject lines and texts with one too many exclamation marks, but I didn’t get a single one while I was away. I was surprised, but maybe more accurately, impressed. My team was crushing it.
The startup journey is a rollercoaster — there are many ups and downs, some you’re prepared for because you know what you’re getting yourself into, but others you just don’t see coming. Throughout the ride, it can sometimes be tough to let go of the restraints. But being away can allow others to take on new responsibilities and even provide you the opportunity to refocus how you spend your time.
Looking back, my parental leave helped me identify “10x-ers,” or team members who are 10 times more productive than the average person and some unsung heroes. Other team members were able to step up, take on new challenges, and develop their skills. As a result, I doubled down on their new and expanded responsibilities, and the structure of my team evolved once I returned from my leave.
You will want everyone to take parental leave.
Let’s be clear: In my opinion, no employer wants to intentionally cause pain for their employees’ families. Entrepreneurs and founders who don’t have parental leave policies in place, or take parental leave themselves, are usually worried about short-term gaps that could be created in their company’s workforce and expertise. Thankfully, you can plan ahead to avoid any potential negative impacts on the employee’s family or your company. Here’s what I’d consider:
- Create a clear parental leave policy. Make the transition easy by setting expectations early about parental leave. You don’t ever want anyone to worry about whether they can adjust to being a parent or feel like they’re walking on eggshells by going on leave.
- Set up a support network. At Gusto, we have a community of parents that just reached more than 70 members. Together, we celebrate the news of each employee’s expanding family and share best practices that can help them adapt their new schedules and priorities at work.
- Let parents ease back into work. Parents know about the upcoming birth well ahead of time so the company should be able to plan for it by adapting work schedules, hiring, or work priorities. Don’t be afraid to think creatively about how to fill the gaps when they’re gone. Planning is key.
The bottom line
The long-term benefits of investing in your people far outweigh any potential short-term costs and are the real keys to building a sustainable business and community.
Take parental leave and lead by example. When you take your leave, you signal to others that your company is a place you can stay for a long time, and where you can build both your family and career in a meaningful and impactful way.