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As Wise CEO Kristo Kaarman takes three months off, are we now in the era of the sabbatical?

 (ES Composte)
(ES Composte)

Earlier this week, Wise CEO Kristo Kaarman said he would be taking three months off work to spend more time with his growing family. Hearing the news of CEOs taking extended leave got me thinking – how much have the tech and the wider business worlds really changed in recent years? And how much further do we have to go? Some are arguing that the tide has turned and that people are starting to make up for lost time – but is this really the case?

There is no doubt that the pandemic has made everyone, no matter which industry you work in or what walk of life you’re from, acutely aware of what is most important. In a strange way, being locked down for so many months gave a lot of us a new perspective – life is not just about work and, when we are at work, our happiness should not be forgotten.

All employers should take note of the lessons we learned during the pandemic (that life is short and that employees can be extremely productive when working from home). The tech industry has typically been one step ahead when it comes to flexible working – and I would urge other sectors to follow suit.

Traditionally, taking extended leave has been equated with something negative or even career-limiting. As a result, there are some companies that refuse to evolve and remain stuck in the past. These employers need to understand that parental leave or a sabbatical is a period of time that is not only beneficial for the team member, but is also a very small proportion of their likely tenure with the company. Businesses (and, in some societies, the government too), have a duty to support their people through these life-changing events. However, it is encouraging to see some companies and employees starting to wake up to the fact that when people return to the team after taking a sabbatical or parental leave, they are always as valuable as ever – in many cases they are even more productive than before.

There are no two ways about it – flexibility matters. I don’t just mean this in the sense of hybrid working. I mean that everyone, at all levels of seniority, has different needs and employers should recognise this, particularly when it comes to childcare and parental leave. There is no ‘one size fits all’ – life is different for everyone.

Over the past decade, I have seen people take varying amounts of leave when having children. It has also been particularly encouraging to see a growing  number of men take up their parental leave rights, in different forms. Some have taken long periods of time off and others have taken their allowance in ‘bursts’ whilst remaining connected to work.

It is not just men who are starting to do things differently. Women are also doing what they believe is right for them, and no one else – and so they should be. I am probably an outlier as I only took a few weeks off when I had each of my three children, and I fully recognise that this decision was only possible as I had a huge amount of support at home.

So, to go back to my original question – how much more progress does the business world need to make? The answer is – there is always more than can be done, particularly when it comes to diversity and inclusion. The more senior male leaders (particularly those in the public eye) that we see taking their family into account when making decisions about their career, the better. It is important to lead by example, particularly as humans are hardwired to resist change.

I am a firm believer in the economic power and social importance of diversity and inclusion and I sincerely hope that others in the industry are too. My advice for business leaders is: keep trying different things, listen to your colleagues and don’t get stuck in your ways. Why not give this a go? You never know – you might be pleasantly surprised.

Romi Savova is CEO of PensionBee