Welcome to our series of ‘Real Stories’ where we’re fortunate to have a snapshot into the personal lives of working parents in the hope that their experiences can help others who are interested in taking a similar path. In this particular story we sit down with Sietse from Edrington to discuss his journey of sharing parental leave with his partner.

ECC: Tell us a little bit about yourself 

Sietse: My name is Sietse Offringa, proud father of Sam and loving husband to Lisa. Ten years ago I started as a local Brand Ambassador for Edrington in the Netherlands, and my role has since then expanded globally – I currently hold the position of Brand Education Manager for The Macallan, with Northern Europe and Russia as my focus regions. People and building relationships have always stood at the heart of what I do, and they continue to drive me to this day. In addition to this, I play the trumpet, practice water polo, and appreciate home-cooked dinners and games with friends.

ECC: Why do you think Edrington decided to introduce their Modern Family Leave policy?

Sietse: I believe Edrington introduced their Modern Family Leave policy because we care about people. Balance, in the broadest sense of the word, is integral to our approach. To me, that means respecting the people we engage with, both internally and externally, as well as actively creating a professional environment that feels both diverse and inclusive. Allowing our people to take up to six months of leave when becoming a parent is majorly beneficial to personal well-being. Moreover, it provides more space for all parents, regardless of gender, to decide who will be doing what in childcare and who returns when to (a changed) working life.

ECC: What was behind your decision to take up paid leave and how long did you take?

Sietse: First and foremost, I want to be with my child. Not just for them, but also for me. To build a relationship. To provide safety. To gain trust. To learn what I can do to be the best possible parent for our child. Secondly, I wanted my partner to be able to focus on her career when she returned to work. Me staying home with our child eased her mind about being back to work. In total, I’ve taken the full six months of parental leave, split up in a period of four-and-a-half months directly after birth, and six weeks in summer during a very busy period for my wife.

ECC: How did your colleagues respond to your decision to take up this extended leave? Are other fathers at Edrington also making use of it?

Sietse: From the moment I announced that we were expecting a baby, my colleagues have been both delighted about the upcoming addition to my family and supportive of my decision to take up extended leave. We collaborated on a handover to ensure all my responsibilities were taken care of and communicated this to all stakeholders well in advance.

ECC: What concerns (if any) did you have before taking extended leave, and how did you overcome these?

Sietse: Before taking up leave, I worried that I would be unable to contribute in trying times. Going away from work during a pandemic was a hard decision to make for me, because I want to contribute and play my part. Additionally, I thought that while I was absent, there was a chance I’d lose my relevance. My solution for both hurdles was a fully transparent conversation with my managers, and the support that resulted from that allowed me to fully focus on the delivery of running projects and the handover of those still open upon my leave. Because I really wanted to focus on my family during the leave and not get sucked into work again, I’ve communicated to my team and external stakeholders that I would not be engaging in activities. Those actions put my mind somewhat at ease.

ECC: What helped you exit smoothly onto leave and reintegrate on your return?

Sietse: The handover was instrumental to my exit (as well as our baby arriving only one day before the due date), and I made good use of the months preceding that to have it well in place. During the six weeks leading up to my return, I had a few conversations with my managers to gradually pick up on what had been going on. This helped me reintegrate at my own pace, and when I did return, we followed up on those conversations with a series of check-ins with the regional teams to streamline priorities. Managing expectations on all sides were central to our approach.

ECC: What tips have you got for managers of fathers taking extended leave? 

Sietse: To managers of fathers taking extended leave, I would like to say this – consider how you would like the father to feel when they are gone and when they return. Do they, for instance, feel supported for taking up leave, understood as a parent, and confident about their prospective return? If you can answer all three elements with a yes, then I believe it is highly likely your colleague will return stronger, more engaged, and as a better person than they were when they left. Most of all, they will have had that beautiful opportunity of being there with their family, which is invaluable.

ECC: What advice do you have for other fathers considering taking extended parental leave?

Sietse: For fathers considering taking extended leave, I have one vital question – how would you like your family to reflect upon your child(ren)’s first year and your role in it? I suppose the answer to that question may provide guidance to what is best for your situation, and if you ever feel like a conversation about this, please feel free to contact me. I feel very fortunate that I have been able to enjoy extended parental leave.

Keep an eye out for the rest of the ‘Real Stories’ series across the other stages of the parental transition!