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Yes to sabbatical and parental leave: "But what about my team?"

Yes to sabbatical and parental leave: "But what about my team?"

The reconciliation of family and career is becoming increasingly important for both male and female employees. Two fathers and two experts discuss challenges

7/1/2019 Editor Linda Gondorf
An increasing number of working people and a growing number of employers* are bringing professional life in tune with private and family life. The classic path is still being followed when it comes to applications for parental leave: First of all, talk to the boss. What would an alternative solution look like and how would it affect the team?

12 employees*, including eight part-time employees, four mothers, four fathers, one team. These days, most departments in a company consist of a motley mix of working time models (we have reported on many diverse modelsover the past few months). Some have already taken a sabbatical, worked part-time for a short time and are now back at 100 percent. There is always someone out of the office as a result of flexible working hours. All this flexibility has an influence on companies. The same goes for parental leave. In 2018, 1.4 million mothers and 433,000 fathers received a family allowance. The Federal Statistical Office reports that the number of fathers has risen by 7 percent. Praise is also forthcoming from political circles: Family Minister Franziska Giffey in the "Father Report" welcomes the new conception of men who actively apply for parental leave, often for longer than three months. Companies have also become more receptive on the subject of sabbatical leave. The number of applications to OTTO has been increasing since 2015.

Change, however, also introduces tension to teams. " Parental leave, especially one that lasts less than a year, may lead to conflicts in teams," explains Ulrike Weber. She is Professor of Human Resource and Organization at the International School of Management (ISM) in Hamburg. Employers* often face the challenge that it is considerably harder to find a replacement for a few months. So should the team be in demand, it takes over tasks from absent colleagues* and intercepts activities.

What does parental leave mean for the team?

Kirsten Frohnert is project manager of the corporate network "Success Factor Family”. OTTO is also a member. This network bundles information around the subject of family friendliness in companies. The reconciliation of career and family is for Kirsten Frohnert a personal strategic field of action, if an employer* wants to find and retain skilled workers in the future. "Parental leave is an exciting topic that will occupy the working world more and more in the future. As not only mothers but also fathers take parental leave, the number of companies that need to find solutions increases. The organisation of parental leave requires negotiation skills between employers* and employees and within teams, as well as solutions for good representation management. As Frohnert explains, "All solutions must be supported by the team.

So how can such an issue be tackled to divide the work of short-term mothers and fathers during their baby leave without creating conflicts? Martin Frommhold, Head of Corporate Communications at OTTO, would like to see more openness and cooperation on the topic in the discussion about career breaks.

Timely and open communication is the be-all and end-all in negotiation processes: "Fortunately, parental leave seldom comes unexpectedly and can therefore be planned to a large extent. The person who wishes to take parental leave should consult closely with their superiors before the start of parental leave. Tasks and responsibilities should be listed and discussed and distributed within the team," says Frohnert. And the use of representatives? It is not always worthwhile to be induction-trained in a job if, for example, it is a matter of six months parental leave. "In our corporate network, for example, there are companies that use stand-ins - even across several companies. This creates planning security and perspectives for all parties involved," explains Frohnert.

A career interruption?

It is advantageous if the team does not generally regard parental leave as a disruption in the process. It is all about having a positive attitude towards the issue, particularly to ensure that colleagues* do not view the additional burden with consternation and therefore create negative sentiment towards expectant parents. The expectant father or mother are also often uncertain as to whether the family break means some kind of career break. Nick Marten, press spokesman at OTTO, is taking seven months parental leave. That is still an exception these days.

Keeping team concept in mind

When you are well prepared for this special time in the life of parents, and have openly communicated your needs and your re-entry, a break in your career is unlikely. "It is absolutely essential to take a systemic approach and get the team on board and work through questions: How far is the team prepared to take on additional tasks? And for some people, where is the tolerance threshold? It also depends on the constellation of the team. Should there be many parents in the team with a limited time budget, or young dynamic individuals who are mainly interested in their own career, then another problem is that of time," Ulrike Weber knows. As many companies today attach great importance to working independently, teams are able to divide up the tasks of representation autonomously. As many companies today attach great importance to working independently, teams are empowered in allocating their representative duties autonomously. After all, only joint coordination ensures that everyone involved works well together. Nevertheless, it certainly would not hurt if employees* were to make concrete suggestions and also discuss or prepare them in a team."

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