Parental Leave, Flexible Working and Partner Promotion. Ben’s story
In August 2019, my wife and I welcomed our first child – Oscar – into the world. Despite the obvious need to do a bit of rebalancing in our lives, two things were important to us as new parents. The first is that we both wanted to play an equal role in raising Oscar and the second was that both my wife and I could both pursue our career ambitions in equal measure. In late 2020 my wife re-joined the workforce – at a new company – and so we both decided to work a 4-day work week. I would take the opportunity to move to this flexible working arrangement through accessing KPMG’s generous parental leave policy (essentially spreading out the days I had access to over an extended period).
The timing for me was an interesting challenge as I was just starting the partner development and admission process – so I wasn’t entirely sure how this was going to play out as I tried to juggle my client, people and partner program commitments while reducing the number of days I was working.
It’s fair to say it has been an adjustment – but I wanted to share my experiences and learnings through this journey, and maybe provide some useful tips for others to consider.
Firstly, recognising the power of being open with my teams and my clients about my new working arrangements and helping them understand what that meant for my availability:
Despite my initial reservations of explicitly sharing this with my clients, it’s been one of the highlights of the process.
It’s a real conversation starter with my clients – especially in today’s challenging environment. Many of them hold KPMG up as a leader in this space – and it’s great to talk to them about how KPMG supports its staff to juggle their work and life commitments. It has also, on numerous occasions, triggered a more personal conversation with my clients around how they are juggling their own commitments and the challenges they face, which in turn helps me to better empathise with them – and support them in different ways.
Secondly, I invest a lot more time at the start of the week to think through what will make mine and my team’s week a success.
This has really helped me prioritise where I spend my time – and ensures I don’t overload myself with 5 days + of work to do in 4. I also make sure I leave a little buffer in to ensure I can respond to the inevitable urgent items that come up during the week. Mentally, creating this space has really helped me deal better with the unpredictable.
Thirdly and finally, it is all about finding the right operating rhythm for my teams and me.
- Using Outlook to help manage my ‘no-go’ times – but also offering a ‘emergency’ channel (e.g. text messages) for my teams to raise issues when urgent. I often find a short phone call can resolve those issues when they (infrequently) arise – helping to empower my teams to keep things moving even when I am off.
- Short, but frequent check-ins with my teams to help plan out the week and avoid (as far as possible) unexpected issues or challenges coming up. I think having a consistent working week (people know I am largely uncontactable on a Wednesday) allows you to build a rhythm. Combined with a bit of time for your teams and clients to get used to it – and it is almost second nature after a few weeks. I’m still working on how I do this across multiple teams and client engagements at the same time – as well as how you maintain this discipline when things get extra busy.
Based on my journey so far, there are probably two main reflections I wanted to share:
The first is the appreciation that, to make this work, is a real team effort. I am super conscious that sometimes my working arrangement can pose challenges (even if only temporary) to teams I work with. Putting in place some small things can help manage this – and ultimately create a shared ownership of how we all work together.
The second is giving me a greater appreciation of the challenges (and potential) solutions about how we support others working on flexible work arrangements – especially those returning to the workforce. Living some of the challenges (albeit to a lesser extent than some) has opened my eyes up to some of the simple things we can do to create a fully inclusive approach to the work we do as a team – and the way in which we do it for our clients.
Oh – and I forgot to mention – despite all this upheaval I was admitted to the partnership in July this year…. proving flexible working does not need to be barrier to progression!