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October 5, 2020 42 min

Being in a management position in any industry can often leave you overwhelmed. Striking a balance between your work and personal life is already difficult. So how does a manager take parental leave? Matt Newkirk—the engineering lead for Etsy’s International Customer Experience initiative—has worked out some of the kinks. 

I’m the father of three girls. During their birth, I was fully involved in startups and was never able to take parental leave. Not only did I miss out, but as a manager I feel I can’t help my team plan a successful leave because I never experienced it. So in this episode of Simple Leadership, Matt shares how to plan and prepare for parental leave. Anyone in leadership can benefit from his experiences.

Outline of This Episode
  • [1:14] Matt’s background in coding + role at Etsy
  • [3:48] Why two-way communication is important
  • [6:33] Matt’s advice for a new manager
  • [8:20] Taking parental leave as a manager
  • [12:57] Parental leave can empower your employees
  • [15:15] How to prepare for parental leave
  • [18:07] How do you tell your boss you’re taking leave
  • [19:19] You need to have a reintegration plan
  • [25:29] How does a manager support employee leave?
  • [31:46] Supporting employees who are parents in a pandemic
  • [34:57] How to navigate “work from home” in leadership
  • [38:06] Parental leave needs to be normalized
  • [41:30] How to connect with Matt Newkirk
  • How can a manager take parental leave?

    Matt has two children, a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old girl. He started at Etsy when his son was 7 weeks old. He was fortunate to receive some parental leave, but there was an odd tension. He was just forming relationships with his team and it felt strange to disappear. So he took that leave very sporadically, almost as if he was taking vacations here and there. Most of the decisions were made before or after that. Very little true delegation had to happen.

    But when his daughter was born, he wanted to take his full leave. He’s very fortunate that Etsy provides 6 months of parental leave. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with his family and disengage from work. When anyone in leadership takes time off, its news. But it is possible.

    You want to role model that it’s okay to take parental leave. It shouldn’t just be a benefit on paper that no one uses. How can taking parental leave empower your employees? Listen to hear Matt’s take. 

    You HAVE to plan your leave

    When possible, you have to build out a plan for your parental leave. Matt was managing many different teams with different scenarios. He notes that sometimes it’s as easy as delegating one person to carry out a task. But it needs to be clear to stakeholders and delegates who is taking on what responsibility. 

    It took him 2–3 months to iron out the details for his leave. He recommends to try and have this done at least one month before you take leave—in case your baby comes early. When should you start planning? Around the time you’re comfortable telling your boss. These plans don’t expire. So if you wrap up a project earlier than you thought, it’s great. 

    Before you leave, Matt says “I think your job before that happens is to make sure that your reports trust you enough, that they don't have to wonder what's going to happen.” You don’t have to think about missing out on opportunities or ask: “Am I going to lose my job? Am I going to get reassigned? Am I going to get the side-eye for the next six months?” Your job is to make sure that none of those things happen.

    You need to have a reintegration plan

    A reintegration plan is just as important as planning your leave. In Matt’s case, he knew he was coming back to a reorganization and a new boss. He wasn’t sure how the units would fit together. So the first thing he did was contact his new boss and let him know when he was coming back. Then he thought about how he’d spend his time.

    He took some strategies from the book “The First 90 Days” and planned to spend the first 30 days figuring stuff out, listening to his team, and understanding perceived problems. Then he spent the next 30 days building hypotheses, testing them with new data, etc. In the last 30 days, you begin to act on that research. He emphasizes that it all comes down to communicating effectively.

    Matt also talks about how the transition back isn’t always smooth and shares how he adjusted to his role in a very changed company. 

    How a manager should support their team’s parental leave

    Matt notes when someone tells you they’re going out on leave, your one job is to make them feel at ease. Let them know you’re there to support them. Then figure out when they’re going to share that information. Set up time to figure out delegation plans. Once they’re out, find out what information they want from you while they’re out. You can front-load some expectations. Other than expected communications, leave them alone. Let them enjoy their leave. 

    Matt also emphasizes that you should be flexible about their return schedule. Do not push back projects for them to handle when they get back from leave. Have a transitional return schedule that starts on a Thursday or Friday and a part-time first week back. 

    Do not make any assumptions. They come back as different people. Some have difficult transitions, others are easy. Don’t make assumptive comments like “I hope you had a great time” or “I bet you’re exhausted.” Above all, don’t reduce their opportunities. 

    How else can you support your employees through a leave? How do you support your team’s work from home in a pandemic? Where can leadership receive support? Matt shares his thoughts on these questions and more—so listen to the whole episode. 

    Resources & People Mentioned
  • BOOK: The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team
  • BOOK: The First 90 Days
  • Molly Graham's Give Away Your Legos
  • Tara Feener's part-time return suggestion
  • Michael Harriot
  • Alice Goldfuss
  • Anne Hjortshøj
  • Pie Bob (Rachel Perkins)
  • Lara Hogan BICEPS
  • Presentation: Revitalizing a Cross-Functional Product Org
  • Connect with Matt Newkirk
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Connect on LinkedIn
  • Connect With Christian McCarrick and SimpleLeadership
  • http://simpleleadership.io/
  • Christian on LinkedIn
  • Christian on Twitter: @CMcCarrick
  • Subscribe to SIMPLELEADERHIP on
    Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Player FM, TuneIn, iHeart Radio

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