In the final instalment of the Into the swing of things series, Garreth Sweeney, Executive Manager at Commonwealth Bank, sat down with Actuaries Digital to discuss the transition from parental leave back into the workforce, the most rewarding part of being a parent and unpacks how he achieves work-life balance.
Actuaries Digital: How did your experience contrast with your expectations?
Garreth: Parental leave was a great time where I could focus 100% on nothing else but being a parent. But going back to work meant learning to balance work and parenting demands. Initially, it was not clear how well this would work out (e.g. with the strict timing requirements of day-care drop-offs and pick-ups!) But I found that planning ahead and openly communicating work and family commitments made it much easier to strike a balance.
Actuaries Digital: What are some of the steps you take to balance your work commitments and being a parent?
Garreth: Letting people know in advance when you are unlikely to be available makes it much easier to plan around those commitments (both family and work-related). I regularly do the day-care drop-off and pick-up runs a couple of days a week so I would block out that time in my calendar as being unavailable. Similarly, if there’s something important coming up at work, we would discuss it at home and agree how best to make alternative arrangements.
Actuaries Digital: Did you keep in touch with your company while on parental leave, or take the time to completely focus your attention and time to your baby?
Garreth: I kept in touch through a couple of check-ins – especially towards the end of the parental leave. I found this helped me stay up-to-date and also prepared me for going back to work.
Actuaries Digital: What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?
Garreth: Having the flexibility to pursue what’s important to you. For me, this means my schedule can shift if I have certain other commitments that come up during the day or evening.
Actuaries Digital: How did you find the transition from parental leave back into the workforce? (If back at work)
Garreth: The first few days were a new experience – learning to adapt to a new working schedule. It also means you can’t completely check-out when you go home as there are still parenting and family responsibilities. But once I had established a routine that worked, it reduced some of the unexpected surprises from balancing different commitments (at least for a little while!).
Actuaries Digital: What do you find most rewarding in being a parent?
Garreth: Seeing your child grow and develop over time. They are like little sponges absorbing everything around them.
Actuaries Digital: Who is looking after your baby now that you are back at work? Did you have any hesitations or concerns in the current environment for your child’s health?
Garreth: Caring responsibilities are split between grand-parents and day-care. There were times when we weren’t sure whether it was safer to send our child to care or keep him at home while we work. In the end, a lot of it was guided by the government restrictions at the time.
Actuaries Digital: What would be your best advice to someone who is soon to commence back to work after taking parental leave?
Garreth: Be clear and open with your work about the boundaries and commitments you’d like to set. This way you can plan ahead and agree on the best arrangement that works for everyone.
Actuaries Digital: What would be your best advice to someone who is considering taking parental leave?
Garreth: Don’t think it will be like a holiday! In the end, the time passes by quickly so make the most of the moment while you can.
Actuaries Digital: How supportive or encouraging have your employer and co-workers been, before, during and after your parental leave?
Garreth: I’ve been fortunate enough to work in an environment that was supportive in taking parental leave. I discussed with my employer and co-workers so we could plan ahead to ensure there was no impact to work deliverables across the team.
Actuaries Digital: How do you consider your work opportunities or salary have been affected by parental leave, if at all?
Garreth: I don’t think it has been impacted.
Actuaries Digital: What would be one piece of advice you would give to employers so they can best support an employee who is about to take his parental leave?
Garreth: Ask employees how they would like to remain connected during their time on leave as everyone is different. Some people would like to touch base regularly to stay updated on work developments whilst others would prefer to disconnect from work.
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