Preparing to take 5 weeks off from work is admittedly a precarious situation to be in. On one hand, I feel very fortunate to work in an industry and for an employer that grants “supporting partners” with time off for “bonding” and family support. On the other hand, part of me wondered if my team, my customers, and the business will be OK without me there. There are constantly things pulling you in different directions, demanding your attention and focus, and preparing to welcome a new child into the world magnifies those feelings tenfold.
Before I share how I prepared for time away from work, let me set the stage. I am a sales manager for a software company that was recently acquired by Cisco. I have twelve direct reports globally. During my time away, we would close out our third fiscal quarter of the year, which is a significant time period if you are in sales and have a quota and brings deadlines and added pressure. Cisco offers supporting parents 4 weeks off at full pay and benefits and allows you to add additional PTO on top of that as you wish. My goal in taking time off was to fully disconnect and not even think about work so that I could dedicate my time, focus, and energy to supporting my wife and children. Being a father of one daughter already, I know how special and sacred the first 4 weeks of a newborn’s life is, and this season of life goes by rather quickly. I wanted to do my best to be fully present. As such, I figuratively wanted to shut down my laptop and throw it in the farthest corner of my closet.
There were a number of things I did in preparation for taking leave that helped me accomplish that full disconnection from work. First, I set adequate boundaries with my coworkers and customers. That started with the obvious out of office auto-notifications for email, as well as setting my “status” in collaboration tools like Webex Teams and Slack to read “I am on leave and unable to respond until X date”. I went a step further and told my direct reports and manager to only communicate with me via text if something was an absolute emergency or if someone was considering leaving their job. (Thankfully, I didn’t get any texts from them other than a couple of requests to share baby photos.) I also worked with my operations team to re-route any sales or HR-related approvals to a designated proxy so that me being out wouldn’t create a bottle-neck or delay. Next, I gave my team months of notice as to when I would be out of the office and we worked on a plan for each of them to be mostly self-sufficient while I was away, and I had someone on my team covering for me to fill in as team leader while I was out. I also worked with my direct manager and created a shared document that highlighted the most critical things and people that would need attention while I was out. Also, the timing of my leave happened to be when I had a brand-new report based in Tokyo, Japan starting on my team. I had a fully mapped out onboarding and training plan for him along with goals to accomplish and asked for help from a couple of teammates to check in on him and support him while I was away.
Lastly, one of the most impactful things I did that candidly felt the most extreme was deleting all email and collaboration apps off of my phone. If you’re someone who is used to having email and Slack on your phone and checking it frequently during non-work hours, then you can understand how much of a habit and rut you get in constantly checking those things. It's not healthy. By deleting those apps, I removed all temptation to get sucked into the work vortex and be fully present at all hours of the day on what was going on at home. I have been back to work now for about a month, and I still have not re-installed Slack onto my phone, and I’m not sure I ever will. Nothing on Slack has to be addressed after-hours and it can wait until the next workday.
I am thankful for the boundaries and plans I put in place to help me take an actual break from work. I am thankful for the support of my teammates, my leaders, and my company for allowing me the time to spend with my family, uninterrupted. There was truly nothing at work that needed my attention while I was out, and although my team told me I was missed (which was selfishly great to hear) I was reminded how secondarily important work is compared to the family and friends in your life.
I cherished the time I was able to spend supporting my wife and my two daughters as we adjusted to a new life of a family of four.
It was a great reminder that there is nothing more life-giving than being fully present while looking after and supporting those that you love and that you are entrusted to provide for.
Article and Words by: Scott Hollingsworth, Husband to Poppylist Founder Sarah, Dad, and Leader at Thousandeyes, a Cisco company.