As we strive for Diversity & Inclusion in the workforce, many new Employee Success themes and conversations are emerging. One of the important themes is the conversations around Paternity Leave policies and the benefits offered to fathers during a key family transition phase.
At Tulip, our employees include a number of proud new fathers who have taken advantage of paternity leave packages. Here, we’re in conversation with our VP, Software, Dariusz Grabka, about his recent experience and what Paternity Leave meant to him.
When did you decide you’d take an extended break for the birth of your child? Was it a tough decision, or was it easy? Walk us through what your thought process was at that point.
Dariusz: It’s a bit sensitive, but I knew I wanted to be there for the early days of my daughter after talking to my parents about their experience. My dad was a young workaholic, doing his best to bring home a paycheque and launder my cloth diapers late at night. He had some regrets about not involving himself more. I didn’t want to have regrets like that. The community of dads at Tulip is pretty vocal, so I got all sorts of advice: everything from “two weeks is enough, I got in the way of my in-law’s” to “I took a year and it was a magical bonding experience.” I settled on asking for six weeks since I’m the sole income earner in my family.
What was the conversation and reactions like with your manager and also teams related to your leave?
Dariusz: Tony, my boss and the CTO, didn’t even flinch; he was happy for me, supportive, and encouraged that I take as much time as we needed. The team around me was also really supportive, but they went into pro-mode and stepped up in my absence. There were a couple of people specifically that went outside of their responsibilities and took over my work. More so than other places I have worked, there’s an instinct to step up for each other at Tulip, regardless of role. That reaction made me feel much more confident in taking time off.
What did you do from a work perspective to plan for your paternity leave?
Dariusz: My role at that time was Development Manager, so I felt responsible for the team and spent a lot of time over-thinking plans and contingencies. In the end, the baby surprised us two weeks early, so the machine of my team took over. The Senior Developers and team leads knew what to do, and kept the development effort humming. I had a great working relationship with Winson, our Product Manager and fellow new dad; he took the reins right away, which was a great relief. I tried checking in a few times during the leave, but they told me not to worry and get back to dad’ing.
What did the parental leave allow you to gain that you would have missed if you didn’t take the leave?
Dariusz: Being there for the first few months of Adelaide’s growth and change was great. It’s just so cool to witness a newborn developing into a little bundle of human love, even from a nature/science/psychology perspective. Those moments where she grabbed my finger, saw the sun, or recognized our dog are now wonderful memories I would not have otherwise. My wife had trouble feeding for the first week, so I took the night shift, giving her a few ounces of milk with a syringe while my wife got an hour or two of sleep. Those first weeks were very hard; I developed a lot of empathy for my wife in that shared early experience.
Do you feel your relationship with your child and your early bonding was impacted by taking time for the parental leave?
Dariusz: Yeah, having to rush back to work, or thinking about the office would definitely have impacted that early bonding. Having the office hanging over your head for a week or two would just have added to the stress. Taking significant time away allowed me to be in the moment with my family.
Was it hard to unplug from work while you were away for leave? How did you manage that separation?
Dariusz: Unplugging was easier than expected, honestly. Partly because I had no time or energy to look at my phone. I actually deleted my email app and messaging app from my phone after I sent the “OK baby is here!” emails. About four weeks into the leave I had a strong instinct to check in. People had sent many messages of support and congratulations; it was really nice getting them a few weeks later, when I needed a boost. My team was kind enough to share highlights of important things, but generally told me to not worry about it .. so I didn’t. I eased back in part-time about six weeks later.
What advice do you have for young fathers who are considering taking paternity leave?
Dariusz: My advice for young dads is to be dedicated to the needs of your spouse and trust your workplace to figure itself out. Of all the things I needed to do, the only thing nobody could do for me was being a good husband.
What advice do you have for companies who are considering adding paternity leave benefits?
Dariusz: My advice to companies is: without honest, supportive policies for time-off or paternity leave, you’ll end up pushing out people that have their priorities straight, ha! From my experience, dedicated family men and women are dedicated people in general. Dedication and hard work are key attributes I look for in co-workers.
What do you feel you learned during the last year from your leave and family-work juggle that gives you a new lens on managing staff?
Dariusz: It may sound passé, but this year of new fatherhood has pushed me to improve my time management, organization, and prioritization. I have a renewed respect, specifically, for the new mothers that keep families on-track and rolling. I also more keenly recognize the importance of government policies around employment insurance, protected positions, parental leave, and think high-tech companies ought to advocate for more publicly funded support. I benefitted from a very supportive setup at Tulip and I think high-tech should collectively push to ensure the rest of Canadian society improves its support for new families.