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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C

Opinion 12 weeks paternity leave helped me at home - and in work

Three months paternity leave isn’t the norm – but it’s good for both family and employer, says Shane Doyle

I’VE RECENTLY RETURNED to work after taking 12 weeks of paternity leave.

For me, twelve weeks is a long time to be away from work, but it was available to me as a team member in Core. In a career in advertising and marketing strategy of over fifteen years so far, the longest I have ever been away from work before this was four weeks, to get married.

I won’t pretend that day one of coming back to work wasn’t a little foggy. It felt strange to be back behind a desk (albeit in my attic) and linking into video calls. After a shaky start, the muscle memory of my day-to-day work has returned quickly. I have found that my first week back gave me an opportunity to reflect on the value of time off has held for me but also for my employer.

Firstly, and most importantly, it gave me time to just be with my family. We all have many roles to play. We have many hats to wear. A person can be a team member at work but also a partner at home, a parent to their children, a son or daughter in their own family.

Twelve weeks of paternity leave allows you to take a proper break from one of these roles to give more time to the others. The priority was of course my own children. My beautiful new daughter yes, but also my three-year-old son.

I don’t think you can overestimate the value of such dedicated time when kids are young. They will no doubt reach an age in the future when they want their independence and will avoid me like the plague. But creating an early bond (when they actually want you around) feels so important, and this time has helped me form and strengthen those bonds with both of my kids.

It also gave me time with my wife, and very importantly for me, it has made her maternity leave a little easier (I hope) for having me around for a few months. It gave me time with my wider family and friends. This feels so important. It is easy to become disconnected to those closest to you in times like those we are now living through. This is ironic given they are the people you need the most to help you through these times.

The good news is that it is also easy to reconnect if you can get the time to do so, and I have. The time off also gave me (in small chunks) time to myself. With a young family and a busy career, this is something we often neglect. All of this was temporal gold.

Time to go fallow

Secondly, it gave me a break. A real one. Work can give us energy. It can interest us, inspire us, motivate us. But naturally enough, it also takes energy from us, of a different kind. You don’t often notice, but 15+ years is a lot of energy to put into something. Work-life balance helps, and two weeks in the sun can give us a reprieve from the flow of energy into work.

However, a longer break can be important in renewing ourselves. We see this in other places all the time. Farmers will leave a field fallow for a time to allow soil to recover. Athletes may choose to forgo a season or a few competitions to gain recovery and rebuild energy. But we rarely think of ourselves in this way when it comes to our careers.

Twelve weeks gets you past the lingering thoughts about this project or that work issue in a way that a two-week holiday cannot do. It really lets your mind totally focus on other things.

This mental break and switch in energy output is hugely restorative. They say a change is as good as a rest. Twelve weeks away from has given me both, and I am better for it.

Thirdly, a break of this kind interrupts what can become habitual behaviour at work and puts you back in the real world for a while. As a strategic planner, I spend a lot of my time looking for consumer insights, trawling through data, reports, and research. I get out from behind the desk periodically to ensure I am using observation as well as reported data.

However, you are always looking at things analytically, critically and in thin slices of observation. A three-month break allows you to stop thinking about consumer journeys and behavioural norms and just be a regular punter, without overthinking it.

In many ways such a break allows you to get off the carousel for a moment and pause many of the conceptions you have about how things work, in favour of just casually experiencing them. It removes the recency effect from how we work, where the last project you worked on disproportionately influences how you tackled the next one.

This clearing out of mental debris is refreshing. I have found myself returning to work much more open than before. I have less assumed preconceptions, less confirmation bias. I am mentally uncluttered.

This all benefits me and my family greatly. I am more connected to them, more balanced, more mentally open and generally more content.

But this also benefits my employer. I return happy with my home life, and a happy worker is a better worker. I return rested (well with a baby and a three-year-old maybe rested is not the right word, maybe un-jaded is better). I return focused and ready to think. Most of all, I return grateful.

I am grateful for the time I have been given when family needed to be my sole focus. In a market where paternity leave as long as I experienced is rare, its benefits are many. I am glad that Core put my relationship with my family above the company. I am also glad that this will benefit the company in the longer term. It’s a win-win that I hope becomes the norm, not the exception.

Shane Doyle is a strategy director at Core.

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