Tristan Thomas, CEO of Packfleet, on how the way he took parental leave influenced the future of his company’s policy.
In late June 2022, I had my first child. Packfleet was about a year old and suddenly I was facing the prospect of figuring out how to balance my two babies at the same time.
At the time, we didn’t have a parental leave policy in place specific to Packfleet. Of course we would pay statutory parental leave pay — and if we were asked about our policy by new joiners, we explained that we would look to set a policy that was generous and fair when it became needed. But that’s not a great approach other than right at the beginning; we always knew we were going to set up something better.
So when I knew that it was me that was needing the policy, there was a huge responsibility. As the CEO and one of the cofounders, how I took parental leave was going to set the bar — and I wanted to do it right. Not taking proper leave would set a poor example for employees who become parents in future and I was also conscious of taking advantage because of my position in the company.
I sat down with Hugo and Josh my cofounders and we talked it through in detail. They were incredibly supportive — immediately saying I should take as much as I wanted or needed and that they would support whatever that was. But I was feeling guilty – I’ve found there are complex emotions when it comes to thinking about how to take holidays and breaks from a business that you cofounded and this was one area where I was struggling to balance those competing priorities and emotions. So I asked them to go and research what others do and suggest a formal policy for what we should do, that I could then follow.
Josh drew up a list of what other businesses did, from large tech companies to small startups, to help us understand the range. He also included both US and UK businesses to help us get the full picture. Together, we then agreed on some key principles for what we wanted — we knew we wanted to be generous, to support parents properly and to have something we’d be proud to share with new joiners and the existing team. We then asked existing parents in the team what they had had at previous companies, what they’d taken and what they would have liked to have been able to take, to try and get as much relevant information as possible.
For the primary caregiver:
– 26 weeks (6 months) at 100% pay
– 13 weeks (3 months) at Statutory Maternity/Adoption Pay (if eligible)
– 13 weeks (3 months) unpaid
For the secondary caregiver:
– 13 weeks (3 months) at 100% pay
We also set up pregnancy loss support — should the worst happen and a baby is stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy, they’ll remain eligible for the entirety of their primary caregiver leave as above. And we also wanted to recognise that pregnancy loss doesn’t just affect those after 24 weeks nor the person bearing the child alone. Much like compassionate leave, we offer up to 10 additional days of paid leave for anyone who suffers pregnancy loss (including still birth after 24 weeks, miscarriage and abortion), including those who are partners, surrogate mothers or intended parents. As someone who had experienced the pain of a miscarriage as a father, this was especially important to me. And finally, we set up fertility treatment leave for up to 7 days/year to help employees who are trying to conceive.
We set up all of these before I went on parental leave. It was important that we set out clearly what we were offering and make it clear to employees and prospective employees that we were here to support them. And it was also important to us that we were as inclusive as possible and so throughout our policies, we refer to primary and secondary caregivers instead of maternity and paternity.
After my son was born, I took nine weeks of full parental leave. I disconnected totally, handed everything over to my cofounders and the wider team and was able to fully focus on the new member of our family. It was the most amazing nine weeks of my life — I was able to be fully present for everything, from the sleepless nights to his first smile, and be as full a presence in his life as was physically possible. For that time, I was able to share as near to 50% of the load with my partner as was physically possible and be there throughout.
At two weeks, the statutory minimum for paternity pay and what many of my friends who’ve had babies have had, I couldn’t imagine going back to work. I was sleep-deprived, still getting used to having a baby and had no brain space to even think about work.
By four weeks, I was able to put my head above the parapet a bit more. I remember chatting with my partner at the time and it felt like I could have gone back to work then. It would have been difficult but wouldn’t have been the gut-wrenching impossibility that it felt like at 2 weeks.
Taking nine weeks though was incredible. It meant I got to go through the tough early weeks, but also enjoy the later, less tough weeks and really enjoy the moments of a new child. We got to spend time playing in the park, seeing friends, enjoying the sunshine and really enjoying life together. And it also meant I was then excited about coming back to work; I was ready for the challenge, excited about getting back to it and confident that I could balance work and home life effectively. And I still have four weeks left of parental leave I can use anytime in the year too.
The difference it’s made, both to home and work, is huge. Seeing those friends who only had two weeks struggle for the next few months made it so clear how short-termist it is of companies to only give the minimums. What they’re gaining in having a person back in the office is easily outweighed by what they’re losing in that person’s focus, happiness and brain power. On top of that, the vast majority of primary caregivers are women — and poor secondary caregiver leaver means the burden of bringing up a child, taking a pay cut and often pausing a career falls on women far more than it does on men. While our leave policies don’t fully balance that out, I firmly believe that offering generous secondary caregiver leaver helps to make some impact on balancing out that negative impact we see across society.
Being able to offer generous parental leave is undoubtedly a privilege. We’re incredibly conscious of that and want to ensure we use that as responsibly as possible. Having a child has been an amazing experience for me and I’m excited about being able to share that with more colleagues in the future!