At Workiva, our parental leave policy helps us attract and retain top-tier talent that is critical to our success. It also helps support the personal and financial needs of employees during a joyful but tough time of enormous transition.
However, the policy itself is only a piece of the equation to get the most out of this benefit. Each one of us is responsible for the other part: nurturing a culture that understands the importance of taking your parental leave.
I have taken not one, but two, parental leaves during my time at Workiva. After the first, I was so confident in the process that I took an additional three weeks of unpaid leave the second time around. I survived, my team survived, and Workiva survived! Not only did we survive, but there were many positive outcomes that may not have happened otherwise.
Here are some tips for making parental leave a positive experience for you and your team.
Structure your leave
Workiva's parental leave provides a lot of flexibility. Every family and team situation is different so having options is fantastic. Figure out what works best for you, your team, and your family. After I returned from my initial chunk of leave, I spread the remainder taking Fridays off for a few months. This helped our childcare situation and helped me figure out a better balance with my new work-life juggle.
Delegate to create leadership and growth opportunities
Delegation is tricky. You want to own your work, especially work you know how to do and do well. But as you grow in influence and experience, you get pulled in more and more directions and no longer have time to do it all. Parental leave presents a great opportunity to start the delegation conversation. Look for someone on your team who is ready to expand their skills and take on new responsibilities.
During my leave, a teammate was able to take my spot at our annual user conference. Another member took over my role leading our weekly team syncs and coordinating cross-cutting projects. Delegating those tasks allowed my teammates to stretch into new areas and further their career development. It's also made our team more well-rounded and removed some singular points of failure.
Look for process improvements
In your daily work, it's often challenging to prioritize things like documentation and improving your work process. Planning for an extended leave puts a deadline and incentive on completing process improvements what would otherwise continue to be pushed back.
For both my leaves, I clearly documented my progress on each project. I finally made time to investigate the automation of tedious things I was managing manually, so someone else wouldn't have to make sure to remember them. For decisions I had been making on experience or institutional knowledge, I started building a resource for others to make those decisions without me.
Those efforts certainly helped while I was gone, and they've had lasting benefits for my team and my own career development. Since I'm prepared to hand off and delegate projects, I'm able to take new opportunities that arrive and not feel so indispensable to current projects. This has been great for my personal career growth and Workiva.
Embrace a fresh perspective
It's easy to get into a rut on projects. We don't always go back to revisit and re-question constraints that may have evolved. Taking an extended step away gives you the opportunity to return with a fresh perspective, which could result in a new insight, innovation, or opportunity. Often with distance comes a renewed focus on what really matters.
Plan to be flexible
Plans are essential for a smooth leave, but being flexible and adaptable is just as important. As the somewhat cliché quote goes, "No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy," a parental leave equivalent could say, "No parental leave plan survives first contact with the baby." Babies are inherently unpredictable. So while it may be tempting to think you've got an awesome plan set in stone, stay flexible to adapt to their needs, your needs, and possibly your team's needs too. Workiva's flexibility is why I have been able to continue to work at a job I love.