Parental Leave Is Not A Vacation, But It Is A Blessing

When it comes to parental leave benefits, Spotify is probably up there as having one of the best. We offer (all parents regardless of gender or sexual orientation) six months of fully paid time off to spend with their new family member. Something unique about this program is that we let employees take parental leave up until their child’s third birthday as well as all employees being eligible to take parental leave as soon as they join the company. Another very important feature of our parental leave plan is that we allow all employees one month of flexible work when they return, as we recognize how difficult it is to transition from being a full-time parent back to a full-time employee. 

Our parental leave policy best defines who we are as a company, born out of a Swedish culture that places an emphasis on a healthy work-family balance, gender equality, and the ability for every parent to spend quality time with the people who matter most in their lives. Our Swedish-inspired culture proves that we do have an environment where a rich time-off policy can be successful. This is what differentiates Spotify from other companies, and why our employees all around the world feel comfortable taking their full parental leave time with the support of their peers, managers, and leaders.

Of course, we celebrate this amazing benefit both internally and externally, but when it comes to measuring the impact this has had on our employees, it’s difficult to quantify as everyone’s experience on parental leave is so unique. 

And whilst I can’t speak on behalf of other people’s experiences, I can share my own personal experience, as I have just recently returned from my final three months of parental leave. Please keep in mind that these are my opinions and experiences, coming from the perspective of a working father whose wife is an amazing stay-at-home mother. 

Three months with a three year-old

For me, I took my first three months of parental leave when my second son, Jude, was born three years ago. Then I took my remaining three months of parental leave off recently, right before Jude’s third birthday. 

Taking three months off to spend time with a newborn was a completely different experience to spending three months off with my three-year-old son who can now talk, walk, run, play. Or in a more blunt way to put it, three year olds are so much more destructive and active than a newborn; thank goodness they are so cute though! But being able to take parental leave to bond with my son at the age of three years old, which is such a formative period of his life, has had such a profound impact on the bond that I have with my son. 

I know this because I have a basis of comparison from my parental leave experience with my first son, nine years ago. For my first son (Lennox) I was given two weeks of parental leave when we were living in New York City. This was clearly not even close to enough time to help support my wife and build a meaningful bond with my child during the first weeks of his life. Furthermore, two weeks off does not give you nearly enough time to understand how life changing becoming a new parent is, because before I knew it, I was back in the office full time. 

During my most recent parental leave, I found myself making comments like “I don’t remember it being so tough with Lennox” at which point my wife would kindly reply “because you weren’t here for it.” This was so true. When I reflect back to when my first son was born nine years ago, I was in the office Monday through Friday and only saw him on weekends mainly, as I would leave work too early in the morning and come back too late in the evening to spend any real quality time with him throughout the work week. 

Parental leave is not vacation 

Let me be very clear on this one. Parental leave is not a vacation. It is not a sabbatical. It is not “time off” that we give to our employees so they can travel and go on holidays. Perhaps we should call it “Parental duty” instead. It is time meant to be spent raising your children. Being present. Being supportive to your partner and sharing the weight of the housework and parenting. 

Several times I’ve had friends, colleagues, and family members ask how I am “enjoying my time off” from work. Let me be the first to say that going into a beautiful office where there is free food, coffee, and other adults to talk to is a much easier environment to be in than at home with a three year old! There were several moments throughout my three months of parental leave where I seriously considered coming back to work early. 

Whilst I appreciated every minute that Spotify gave to me to spend with my family, staying home full time with a three-year-old and a nine-year-old is very stressful, and it took a toll on my mental health and well-being. Studies show that stay-at-home parents experience poorer physical and mental health compared with parents who work outside the home. Effects include higher rates of mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, as well as higher rates of chronic illness. Stay-at-home parents also report feeling more depression, sadness, and anger than parents with jobs. Staying at home and not working can also lead to increased social isolation. 

And to be very honest – I felt all of these emotions during my three months off. Which only makes me appreciate my wife even more and made me recognize that her job as a stay at home mother is A LOT harder than mine. More recognition and appreciation needs to be given to all stay at home parents around the world. 

Parenting Skills Are Transferable

It is also important to recognize the career sacrifice that stay at home parents often make, and companies around the world should focus more on hiring and re-integrating stay at home parents back into the workplace. The skillsets you gain from being a stay at home parent can be translated into some of the most important leadership skill sets that you need in the office space. There is no better training ground to learn and master skills such as time management, multitasking, communication, empathy, patience, vulnerability (and so many more skills) than being a stay-at-home parent raising young children. Assessing someone’s CV and noticing they have been out of the workforce for many years due to being a stay at home parent should not be a reason to reject their candidacy. It should be a reason to hire them and pay them fairly, regardless of how long they have been out of the job market. 

If we want to win the war on gender wage gap, paying stay at home mothers fairly when they decide to return to work will certainly make an impact. 

Sense of Purpose Shifts

Being a full time employee to becoming a full time parent on parental leave was an eye opening realization on how much of my life is connected to work. And it makes sense if you step back and actually think about how much time you are actually spending at work. When all the meetings and emails stopped, and I started separating myself from my day-to-day job, I found that there was a large void left in my head that was not filled. It took several weeks for me to fully focus on being a parent on leave, and to accept that this was to be 100% of my purpose. Losing the sense of purpose from my job left me feeling very vulnerable. My FOMO was in full effect, and I found myself still checking emails and chiming in on messages just to try to stay connected with my teams, but quickly realized that I was doing it more to help soothe my anxiety, versus helping my teammates. 

Fast forward several weeks and my sense of purpose was completely focused on my family – full time! But that transition was difficult, just as it was difficult to transition back from being a full time parent to return to work. Similar to the FOMO I had leaving my team, my FOMO is now about missing the daily routine I had with my two sons. 

However, even though it might feel that weekends just aren’t enough time to spend with my kids now, the profound impact on the bond that I have with my son Jude that has come from taking this leave, is something that can never be replaced. I will forever be grateful to Spotify for giving me the time to be with my family, because at the end of the day, that is what really matters most in life. 

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Michael is a highly accomplished global Human Resources leader with over 15 years of experience in strategizing and implementing global talent initiatives that drive business results and improves both employee and company performance. He is a trusted business partner to C-level and executive management teams with an extensive record of executing high impact global talent solutions.

Michael currently serves as Head of HR APAC at Spotify, where he is responsible for driving the overall people strategy for the region. His innovative design of Spotify’s revamped parental leave program has received global recognition for taking the #leadonleave for companies supporting families, establishing work life balance, and driving inclusivity within the workplace.

Michael has worked across a broad spectrum of industries including Technology, Investment Banking & Markets, Media, and Advertising. Prior to joining Spotify, Michael was a Vice President of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, where he was responsible for leading strategic people initiatives across the Technology division globally.