A CEO on Paternity Leave – is that even possible?

I’ll go ahead and give you the short answer right now: yes, it is. Provided you have a good team and have established all the necessary structures and organizational workflows. And now, for the longer answer…

Over six and a half years ago, when I founded our company as a late twenty-something together with my friend Stefan, parental leave for dads was scarcely heard of. In many IT companies like us, any form of parental leave tends not to be a huge issue, because the proportion of male employees is very large and parental leave is still somewhat of an exotic concept. The statistics say that in 2011, only 0.3% of all working men in Austria received a childcare allowance. Thus, you might think that in the technological and male-dominated industry I work in, I would not really have to deal with this topic at all.

A question of culture

However, since our company culture with its flexible work schedules and opportunities for personal and technological development is very important to us, we always viewed (parental) leave as something good and even desirable. Nevertheless, I have to admit that it did take me by surprise when a good friend and colleague approached me about two years ago, wanting to discuss his parental leave. Since he is one of our most senior developers and has a key role in our company, we were wondering how we could compensate during his three-month absence. Since any parental leave can easily be planned for, however, and since we got the request many months in advance, we did manage pretty well. With extensive project handovers to colleagues and documentations we fared better than expected in bridging our colleague’s absence that nevertheless seemed pretty long to us.

With about 20 employees, we‘re still a relatively small company, so the effort of every single person matters in our day to day business. Crucially, though, we made sure from the start to spread out all our combined know-how as evenly as possible throughout our company, so that vacations, sick leaves and also parental leaves would not hugely negatively impact our output.  In combination with our project management tools and work processes, this usually enables us to organise the required substitutes without much additional effort and, correspondingly, without any irritations for our clients. Part of that, of course, is also due to the fact that our team works together really well and that there is a similar level of knowledge and skill concerning the individual areas throughout.

Parental leave on the management level

How well does all of this work for me as co-founder and CEO? Well, I have to say, pretty much the same. Thank goodness, I have a wonderful co-founder and CEO I can always rely on and who took on many of my tasks in my absence. Also my colleague Kathrina enormously helped in making sure that what awaited me upon my return would not be a mountain of work but a seamlessly working company. She answered my emails, took all my calls and added many of the things I usually do to her regular schedule.

In addition to my role as CEO, my main task is the operative sales management. As such, leading up to my paternity leave, I was anxious about whether my absence would have a negative impact on my customer relations. Before I left, I therefore informed most of them about my paternity leave, the duration of my absence and who would replace me in the meantime. I was positively surprised at how readily it was accepted and at the sheer amount of positive feedback and congratulations that ensued.

Now that I have returned to work, I want to take a similar approach, let them all know that I am back and say hello. From the perspective of a salesman, this is, of course, also an excellent opportunity to get back into contact and perhaps to revive the odd business opportunity. Obviously, though, that’s not my main reason for taking the time off 😉

Why paternity leave?

As is probably the case with most parents taking parental leave, I wanted to spend time with my kid. And it was absolutely amazing. I am extremely thankful that I could support my wife with childcare in a time in which our child developed so rapidly. During this time, I got to watch my son take his first independent steps and make huge progress in learning to talk. Something new really happened every day. I’d already noticed a similar thing earlier this year when I went to the Hanover Industrial Fair only to return after a week and find that his crawling speed had doubled in the meantime 😉

However, watching my son develop was not the only thing that was important to me. I also wanted to experience what childcare really means and seeing how much work went into taking optimal care of a baby or toddler was extremely valuable to me. Believe me, seeing things from the outside and being responsible yourself are two completely different stories and it cannot be compared to “normal” work either. It’s being on call 24/7 with a tiny person making most of your decisions and a permanent sleep deficit 😉 I don’t mean to make that sound bad or off-putting, I’m simply being honest. Despite the physical strain it is just wonderful to watch your kid discover the world around them and learn something new every day.

My résumé as a father and CEO

As you can probably tell, I could go on raving about my experience as a full-time dad forever, but I think I got my main message across. I want to encourage everyone who can afford to do so (not necessarily only the dads) to take advantage of parental leave and make these experiences themselves. After all, what are 2 to 3 months when compared to 10 or 20 years in your job? Ideally, this amount of time will be hardly noticeable at your workplace but will enrich your personal life hugely.

From a business perspective, my opinion remains the same. Since we have by now had 3 paternity leaves in our team of twenty people, we’re probably breaking all records and statistics anyway. And since being a great place to work is one of our main priorities, this is a good thing. I am also proud of the fact, that we have four women on our team already and that we will be doubling the number of female developers come January! I’m definitely excited to find out how much parental leave we can all expect in the years to come.

And lastly, for everyone who was expecting them: I have decided not to share any photos of me and my son online, even though I have accumulated quite the collection 😉 If you are interested, however, you can talk to me about all of it in person. I’m always happy to have a chat!

Claus

About the author

Claus

Claus is one of the founders of CodeFlügel. He's a perfectionist and unbridled optimist. He spends a lot of his time developing his company, learning and continuously improving. Before that, when he still had a life outside of work, his hobbies included: traveling, cooking, eating, sleeping, reading, rock climbing, diving, going to festivals and concerts, practicing Taekwondo, learning Chinese, ...