Father's Day is this weekend, and what better way to celebrate dads than to give them paternity leave? All the evidence suggests better outcomes for babies, families and companies that participate in paid leave programs. However, only 9% of American companies currently offer paternity leave and 40% of the men offered leave choose not to take the time off -- due at least in part to perceived job pressures and fear of repercussions. And yet, taking paternity leave can boost your creativity, often in surprising ways.
Ben Berkowitz is the founder and CEO of SeeClickFix, a communications platform that enables citizens to report non-emergency issues -- such as illegal dumping and potholes -- to local governmental agencies, and helps those agencies track, manage, and reply to concerns. When Berkowitz and his wife had their first child in 2012, he decided the company should offer four weeks of paid paternity leave in addition to the three weeks paid vacation offered to all employees. Berkowitz, who is currently two weeks into his second paternity leave, explains that his paternity leave has had surprising benefits for his own creativity and for his company's evolution.
CEOs are often encouraged to get some distance from their companies from time to time, but actually doing this is tricky. "This is especially true for founders who are prone to control issues," Berkowitz notes. However, because paternity leave is not a vacation per se, both CEOs and management can be more relaxed about communication. "On paternity leave, I feel comfortable being available to senior team leaders as needed, as opposed to vacation when contact is mandated 'only in emergencies.' This gives me a chance to observe the resiliency of my organization while also giving me the freedom to explore new ideas in a low-pressure environment," Berkowitz explains.
This time around, Berkowitz benefited from his wife's delivery being a week late, because he freed up his schedule. "Leading up to paternity leave, I didn't want to take outside meetings that might have to be canceled at the last minute," he shared. "I still wanted to be available to co -workers, however, so I used the time a bit differently than on more typical days. I'm a self-trained graphic design hack and I have always been passionate about design. So I made myself available to my co-workers while illustrating their avatars." This series allowed Berkowitz to master new tools (the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil), while creating a new potential look and feel for the "About Us" page on the company's website that was more in line with the DIY nature of SeeClickFix.
His skill-building and creative exploration is continuing at home too. "I had been interested in the Apple Watch for a while," Berkowitz noted. "I decided to use my downtime at home to pick up Apple Watch development." Berkowitz is now contemplating a SeeClickFix watch App which would improve ease of use for their clients. "I'm pleased that paternity leave and the time leading up to it have given me an excuse to be more creative and to explore new ideas outside of my traditional work routine."
Berkowitz is a great example of how a program intended to benefit workers and their families can provide unexpected wins for the company too. Perhaps, by thinking of paternity leave as a time to be creative and explore new ideas, men will be more inclined to take it, and the companies they work for will be more supportive in encouraging them to do so.