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Aug 26, 2019

My Parental Leave Experience at Netflix

As I conclude my parental leave and return to work today, I thought I would share my experience with other expecting or aspiring parents.

I truly wish more companies would offer their employees generous parental leave and employees would take advantage of it, especially dads. Yes, we too can and should take parental leave to take care of our family and support our spouse, even if it’s not for a first child.

Our first son was born in January 2014. Back then I was working at another company, I could take 3 weeks off from my vacation and sick days right after birth. Our family is in France and we had no nearby support, so I was glad to have some time to support my wife and figure out what parenting was. What we didn't know at the time was that spreading my paternity leave would have been more beneficial - the first weeks of a baby are pretty uneventful. The months and years after that not so much...

Fast forward 5 years, somehow we had forgotten how challenging and exhausting raising a child can be and in February 2019 our second son was born. We now had a better idea of what to expect and I could make use of Netflix’s flexible parental leave policy, which is simply “take care of your baby and yourself”.

I first discussed this topic with my manager in September 2018. The plan was to take 4 weeks off right after birth, another 8 weeks in the summer and possibly 4 weeks next year around his first birthday. My wife and I knew the summer time would be important for me to be available as that time around 4-6 months old is challenging, with a lot of developmental milestones and sleep regressions along with a 5 year old in summer camp only for a few weeks.

It all sounds straightforward, right? It’s simply like going on a few long vacations with a lot of heads up. Well not quite, just like at any other fast moving company, a lot of unexpected things happened in 10 months.

I took 4 weeks off after birth as expected, but a couple months before I was set to be on my second paternity leave break, discussions were initiated to move our team to a different organization within Netflix. The goal was to broaden the scope and impact of our work and serve more teams within the company. While it was a great opportunity for the team, it also meant leaving our “comfort zone”. For the past 5+ years, we had a clear identity and focus in our current organization and this change meant treading into uncharted territory for us. Things moved along quickly and the reorganization happened right before my paternity leave started.

The timing was unfortunate since as a team we had a lot of ideation, navigation and partner communication to do to shape our future appropriately. We had to redefine our identity and charter to reflect our new challenges and scope. And yet I didn’t change my original plans. I did get involved in these team activities to some extent before I left, but as soon as I was on paternity leave I disconnected from work and completely trusted my team to navigate the reorganization.

Independently from this, a few weeks after I started my leave, a long time teammate decided to pursue new challenges and move to another team. My manager had been working with him on his transition and gave me a heads up before I left. The team would be down 2 people (out of 4 working on a specific project) and yet neither he nor my teammates ever pressured me to change my plans. What happened instead was that the team stepped up to spread the load and rebalance priorities and commitments.

I told everyone to not hesitate to contact me if something came up and they needed my help or input. No one ever sent me emails or slack messages that could subtly pull me into regular work. I was the one generally initiating contact in the first couple weeks and was simply told to focus on my paternity leave.

Looking back, taking such a long break was a good forcing function to reap long-term benefits for the team. I worked with my teammates to better share knowledge and ownership of specialized projects I was working on by myself. This helps generate better quality of ideas through shared ownership and collaboration, but is also good to avoid potential burnout in the long run by not having a single expert (a.k.a. single point of failure) in specific areas.

Now that those 8 weeks have come to an end, I am immensely grateful for the time I got to spend with my family.

I was able to be there when our baby started rolling over, held his head up, crawled backwards (yes it counts, at least he’s going in some direction…), started laughing, babbling, sitting up, “swam” underwater for the first time and so many more things (like sleep regressions…).

I was also there for our 5 year old who just started Kindergarten and could come with him to his first day of school. I could see how he has been such a wonderful big brother and how much he has grown in maturity in just 2 months.

Finally I was there to support my amazing wife who has given me 2 wonderful boys and has been taking care of our family so well for so many years.

I would have missed a lot of things if I had not had the chance to be on paternity leave and only see them in the early morning, late afternoon and weekends.

I am so grateful to be part of such an amazing team at Netflix and work for a company that cares about its employees. I will definitely miss being at home with my family, it was a huge privilege to be able to spend so much time with them and see my children grow so much in 2 months. But now I’m re-energized (only slightly sleep deprived) and excited to be back at work and tackle my team’s new set of challenges.

I would love to hear from you about how your parental leave worked out and how your company and team were supportive of it. Feel free to leave some comments or reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter.

And while I have your attention, if you want to be part of an awesome team and entertain the world, my team is hiring! :)

#ParentalLeave #WeAreNetflix

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