5 questions to ... Alexander about his parental leave at zeb

Eine Fotokollage aus verschiedenen Familienfotos eines zeb-Mitarbeiters.

Alexander has been working at zeb since 2017 and, in his role as a Manager, is primarily responsible for the topics of private banking and asset & wealth management. Over the years he has worked at zeb, he took parental leave twice, for 14 months in total. This makes him one of just a few men, because men take parental leave considerably less often than women –  and then usually for a shorter period of time. In this testimonial, Alexander tells us why he decided to take a year’s parental leave, how he experienced it, how those around him reacted, and what he might do differently with hindsight. 

A general question to start with: how long have you been at zeb and what is your current position?

I currently hold the position of Manager. I’ve been working at zeb for about six years, but during that time I was on parental leave twice – for a total of 14 months.

Both in today's society and economy, it is in part still not taken for granted that men decide to take parental leave, too. Was the decision difficult for you?

Overall, my wife and I achieved a fair split where we each had one reasonably long period of parental leave: when our son, who is now five and a half years old, was born my wife was still an employee and I was the main breadwinner. Accordingly, we chose the “classic model” at the time, which meant that I had two months of parental leave and my wife twelve months.

When our daughter was born, we were in a different situation: by then, my wife had started her own business, having fairly recently taken over a dental practice. The practice could not simply be closed, and my wife therefore had to return to work just five weeks after the birth. So it didn’t take us long to decide that I would take the parental leave of twelve months. But that wasn’t a difficult decision for me either. In fact, it was a matter of course, and I very much looked forward to it, too.

Applying for parental leave went off without a hitch: I gave my CDC (Career Development Counselor) sufficient notice so that the project lead was also informed before the start of the project I was involved in at the time, and the timing was perfect.

What did you experience in these months? In hindsight, what would you do differently or exactly the same?

Of course, parental leave is not free time in the classic sense, as both of my children demanded my full attention. Nevertheless, I was able to finish lots of things in these months that we would not have managed otherwise as we were also building a house, moving in and carrying out a few other projects. But of course I had intended to do a lot more than I ultimately achieved.

One of the most striking experiences I had is that some people don’t trust you, i.e. a man, to live up to the duties that come with parental leave. For example, I was frequently approached by elderly women who didn’t believe I was ensuring a sufficient flow of oxygen for my daughter in the baby carrier. My most important experience is therefore that you can do anything, also as a father.

How did your personal and professional environment react to your decision to take parental leave?

In principle, everyone took it positively, but there were marked differences. Reactions ranged from “One year? I couldn’t do that ...” to “I’d like to do that, too.” or “I would have liked to do that, too, if I had had the chance at the time.” Some also thought I was “brave” or inquired what my employer thought about it.

How do you now balance job and family after your parental leave?

My wife is able to schedule her working hours in such a way that she can pick up the kids from 3:00 p.m. on three afternoons, and the grandparents come over once a week.
I myself didn’t get straight onto a project after my extended parental leave of twelve months because of the quieter summer months, so I had some time to settle in. By now, however, I am back to working on a project that is similar in content to the project I was working on before my parental leave. In addition, I have reduced my hours to 90% and take Monday afternoons off because we don’t have childcare in that time.  

How do you think the topic of parental leave should develop in the future?

In my opinion, it is a matter of course that fathers also take parental leave nowadays. However, there is still a clear imbalance in the duration, and overwhelmingly women stay at home for twelve months and men for only two. I believe that when fathers consciously decide to take parental leave, this has positive effects on the development of the father-child relationship and is also an opportunity for the woman to emancipate herself. 

With my parental leave, I somewhat involuntarily felt like a “role model” and received a lot of recognition for it, although I think it should be taken for granted that fathers also take parental leave for longer than the typical two months. Some friends or acquaintances told me that it wouldn’t work at their employers, which I think is a cop-out given the current labor market situation, among other things. If you (really) want to, you can do it.

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