Forget balance! Leaders can navigate imbalanced lives

A perfect work-life balance is not possible for those in leadership positions. It’s more useful to strive for work-life integration. There are ways to accept and maximize an imbalanced schedule.

Beyond personal well-being, parental leave not only can lead to big payoffs for companies, but it can positively influence parents’ careers.

In terms of professional success, according to Robbyn Scribner, lead researcher and assistant director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, some studies have actually shown paternal leave is more critical than maternal leave, because it leads to more equalized child care.

“Looking at the long-term pathways for men and women throughout their career lifespan, we know that there’s a fatherhood bump, so when men become fathers, they earn more money, they are more successful, when women become mothers, their earnings drop significantly, they are less likely to have promotions, and a lot of that is because of the unequal distribution of work at home, of the care work,” Scribner said. “By giving those dads the opportunities to be home right for the very beginning, it makes it more likely to equalize a little bit the way becoming a parent affects a mother’s and a father’s career. And hopefully that will give a boost to the mothers because they’re sharing all those duties more equally throughout the lifespan of their child and their family.”

Lyndsey Proctor, a licensed clinical social worker who owns Serenity Recovery and Wellness, said having dads involved from the very beginning and taking on more of the child care role can improve mental health all around, for both parents and children. Scribner, a mother of six, said she’s witnessed firsthand how her husband has benefited professionally, personally and emotionally from being involved in their children’s lives.

“For men to have more time with their family ... to me it’s a no brainer, it’s a win-win situation,” Scribner said.

The problem still remains, however, when it comes to career paths for both parents. While there is a stigma surrounding women who take time off to give birth to and raise children, Scribner said there is often an even worse stigma around men wanting to do the same thing.

“One of the things that happens with parental leave, is that men specifically are penalized for taking it, even when it’s offered,” Scribner said. “Even in companies where they’re offering it, people look at it and they go, ‘oh, well a woman who takes it we just understand because she wants to be there with her baby or whatever. A guy who takes it, he must not be committed to his job.’”

When it comes to encouraging both mothers and fathers but especially fathers to take parental leave, Scribner said it has to come from the top down — executives need to lead by example.

Jonyce Bullock, the CEO of Squire and Co., an accounting firm, said that’s one of the things she has had employees thank her for the most — her example in taking off time for her family. Although Bullock’s children are older, 17 and 19, one of them has dealt with significant health problems over the past year. Bullock has taken time off to be with her child, occasionally working remotely.

“Several people have (said to me) specifically, I appreciate seeing that you are taking care of your (child) because it helps me to feel better about doing that myself,” Bullock said.

Female CEOs are rare — but Bullock’s story is a perfect example of what women can accomplish in their career if they are given the No. 2 thing Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, said the majority of women want: flexibility.

Bullock first started working for Squire as an intern over 20 years ago. When she graduated from college, she was expecting her first child, but she worked full time until he was born in September. After he was born, she went back to work part time. Over the next several years, as her husband experienced job changes and health issues, Bullock said she would switch from part time to full time in order to be covered by insurance, switching back to part time when her husband got a job that would cover them.

Over the course of five years, while her husband went through job changes and health issues and Bullock had her second child, she estimates she switched between part-time and full-time work eight different times.

“In hindsight, I look back at it and they were so patient with me,” Bullock said. “Quite honestly, when you think about (it), that could make an employer frustrated ... but they were so great. They just said, communicate well, let us know what you’re doing, and make sure you take care of the clients.”

As long as her clients were taken care of, Bullock said, her employers were willing to be flexible. Later, after her kids were a bit older, she decided she wanted to stick to full-time work. Bullock credits her employers as well for investing in her — not only did they not give up on her when she was switching back and forth between part time and full time, but she said they sent her to leadership training and gave her the mentors and support she needed that eventually led to her becoming CEO of the company.

Her own experience has led her to extend the same courtesy to her own employees, such as one employee that came to her with a proposal to job share shortly before she was due to have a child. Instead of working a full 40 hours a week, this employee found someone with similar skills to hers to also work part time. Sometimes one of them works 30 hours and the other works 10 hours, sometimes it’s more even, and on at least one occasion when the two job-sharing employees had a big project they asked permission to work a little over 40 hours in total.

That’s just one of several examples where employees have worked with Bullock and other leadership to either work from home a few days a week in order to be with kids, or work longer hours during certain parts of the year and less hours during other parts of the year in order to spend time with family. Bullock said the company strives to be flexible in order to adapt to individual employee needs.

“I wouldn’t be here, sitting in this seat if somebody 20 years ago had been like, ‘oh, she’s cut back to part time, she’s a mom, we’re gonna stop investing in her,” Bullock said. “These (moms) are going to be employees who are going to gain so much skill and experience over the next five to seven years, that then when they re-engage in the workforce, they’re going to be some of our most valuable people,” Bullock said.

Keeping on those experience workers and employees, Bullock said, and investing in them is much easier than starting over again with new employees. That’s one of the key things that companies tend to miss out on when it comes to whether or not they want to pay for parental leave, according to both Madsen and Scribner.

“Finding a new person, replacing a new person, can cost almost an entire year’s salary,” Scribner said. “There’s really a balance that companies need to be thinking about.”

Besides long-term cost efficiency, as the demand for better work-life balance and parental leave policies rises, offering a good parental leave policy can be a great recruitment and retention tool, like Bullock experienced.

“Professional women ... they’re going to be drawn to go to that company and stay at that company because of those (parental leave policies),” Madsen said.

Some notable companies with locations in Utah that have highlyranked parental leave policies according to Glassdoor, SalesForce and Business Insider include Ernst and Young, Adobe and soon, Facebook. Other Utah-based companies with progressive parental leave policies include Podium, Domo, Weave and newcomer Jukko.

Weave CEO Brandon Rodman said while he recognizes that Weave’s parental leave policy — 12 weeks paid leave for mothers and 6 weeks paid leave for fathers, among other perks like free diapers for a year — is a good recruiting and retention tool, he said that fact almost “bugs” him.

“It shouldn’t be a recruiting advantage, because it’s generally the right thing to do,” Rodman said. “You shouldn’t have to choose between family or career. If you want both, you should be able to do both.”

Weave is still a young company, which Rodman said can serve as an excuse to not make parental leave a priority. But at Weave, Rodman said, it’s family first. A father himself, he said he regrets not getting more time to spend with his kids as newborns. When parents come back to work, it’s always an adjustment, Rodman said, but the company wants to make sure to ease that transition as well.

“There’s certain moments in our life when it’s important to slow down,” he said. “And this is one of them.”

Although the company and its parental leave policy is still young, Rodman said he’s already seen the benefits of recruitment and retention, particularly when it comes to cost.

“It looks expensive on the front end, but our experience so far is that it’s cheaper in the long run,” he said. “Because of that retention, because of the making it easier to recruit.”

The experiences of companies and individuals, as well as research, has shown that parental leave — giving parents time to spend with their children, and being flexible as they come back into the workforce — not only improves the mental health of both employees and their children, but it creates better and more loyal employees. The evidence is there, and Utah companies that want to stay ahead of the curve need to take a serious look at what benefits they are offering employees.

Carley Porter covers northern Utah County and business for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at cporter@heraldextra.com.

Carley Porter covers northern Utah County and business for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at cporter@heraldextra.com.

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