Redefining Parental Leave with Matt Newkirk

Being in a management position in any industry can often leave you overwhelmed. Striking a balance between your work and personal life is already difficult. So how does a manager take parental leave? Matt Newkirk—the engineering lead for Etsy’s International Customer Experience initiative—has worked out some of the kinks.

I’m the father of three girls. During their birth, I was fully involved in startups and was never able to take parental leave. Not only did I miss out, but as a manager I feel I can’t help my team plan a successful leave because I never experienced it. So in this episode of Simple Leadership, Matt shares how to plan and prepare for parental leave. Anyone in leadership can benefit from his experiences.

Redefining parental leave begins with leadership. In this episode of Simple Leadership, @mnewkirk shares his experience! #Leadership #Leaders #Lead #LeadByExample #HR #Parenting #NewParentClick To Tweet


Outline of This Episode

  • [1:14] Matt’s background in coding + role at Etsy
  • [3:48] Why two-way communication is important
  • [6:33] Matt’s advice for a new manager
  • [8:20] Taking parental leave as a manager
  • [12:57] Parental leave can empower your employees
  • [15:15] How to prepare for parental leave
  • [18:07] How do you tell your boss you’re taking leave
  • [19:19] You need to have a reintegration plan
  • [25:29] How does a manager support employee leave?
  • [31:46] Supporting employees who are parents in a pandemic
  • [34:57] How to navigate “work from home” in leadership
  • [38:06] Parental leave needs to be normalized
  • [41:30] How to connect with Matt Newkirk

How can a manager take parental leave?

Matt has two children, a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old girl. He started at Etsy when his son was 7 weeks old. He was fortunate to receive some parental leave, but there was an odd tension. He was just forming relationships with his team and it felt strange to disappear. So he took that leave very sporadically, almost as if he was taking vacations here and there. Most of the decisions were made before or after that. Very little true delegation had to happen.

But when his daughter was born, he wanted to take his full leave. He’s very fortunate that Etsy provides 6 months of parental leave. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with his family and disengage from work. When anyone in leadership takes time off, its news. But it is possible.

You want to role model that it’s okay to take parental leave. It shouldn’t just be a benefit on paper that no one uses. How can taking parental leave empower your employees? Listen to hear Matt’s take.

You HAVE to plan your leave

When possible, you have to build out a plan for your parental leave. Matt was managing many different teams with different scenarios. He notes that sometimes it’s as easy as delegating one person to carry out a task. But it needs to be clear to stakeholders and delegates who is taking on what responsibility.

It took him 2–3 months to iron out the details for his leave. He recommends to try and have this done at least one month before you take leave—in case your baby comes early. When should you start planning? Around the time you’re comfortable telling your boss. These plans don’t expire. So if you wrap up a project earlier than you thought, it’s great.

Before you leave, Matt says “I think your job before that happens is to make sure that your reports trust you enough, that they don’t have to wonder what’s going to happen.” You don’t have to think about missing out on opportunities or ask: “Am I going to lose my job? Am I going to get reassigned? Am I going to get the side-eye for the next six months?” Your job is to make sure that none of those things happen.

If you’re in leadership, you HAVE to carefully plan parental leave. @mnewkirk shares his strategies for a smooth transition in this episode of Simple Leadership! #Leadership #Leaders #Lead #LeadByExample #HR #Parenting #NewParentClick To Tweet


You need to have a reintegration plan

A reintegration plan is just as important as planning your leave. In Matt’s case, he knew he was coming back to a reorganization and a new boss. He wasn’t sure how the units would fit together. So the first thing he did was contact his new boss and let him know when he was coming back. Then he thought about how he’d spend his time.

He took some strategies from the book “The First 90 Days” and planned to spend the first 30 days figuring stuff out, listening to his team, and understanding perceived problems. Then he spent the next 30 days building hypotheses, testing them with new data, etc. In the last 30 days, you begin to act on that research. He emphasizes that it all comes down to communicating effectively.

Matt also talks about how the transition back isn’t always smooth and shares how he adjusted to his role in a very changed company.

How a manager should support their team’s parental leave

Matt notes when someone tells you they’re going out on leave, your one job is to make them feel at ease. Let them know you’re there to support them. Then figure out when they’re going to share that information. Set up time to figure out delegation plans. Once they’re out, find out what information they want from you while they’re out. You can front-load some expectations. Other than expected communications, leave them alone. Let them enjoy their leave.

Matt also emphasizes that you should be flexible about their return schedule. Do not push back projects for them to handle when they get back from leave. Have a transitional return schedule that starts on a Thursday or Friday and a part-time first week back.

Do not make any assumptions. They come back as different people. Some have difficult transitions, others are easy. Don’t make assumptive comments like “I hope you had a great time” or “I bet you’re exhausted.” Above all, don’t reduce their opportunities.

How else can you support your employees through a leave? How do you support your team’s work from home in a pandemic? Where can leadership receive support? Matt shares his thoughts on these questions and more—so listen to the whole episode.

How should a manager support their team’s parental leave? @mnewkirk shares his dos and don'ts in this episode of Simple Leadership! #Leadership #Leaders #Lead #LeadByExample #HR #Parenting #NewParentClick To Tweet


Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Matt Newkirk

Connect With Christian McCarrick and SimpleLeadership

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How can a manager take parental leave? @mnewkirk shares how he made it happen in this episode of Simple Leadership! #Leadership #Leaders #Lead #LeadByExample #HR #Parenting #NewParentClick To Tweet
When you take parental leave, you also need to have a reintegration plan in place for your return. What should that look like? @mnewkirk shares his thoughts in this episode of Simple Leadership! #Leadership #Leaders #Lead #LeadByExample #HR #ParentingClick To Tweet

Read Full Transcript

Christian McCarrick: This is simple leadership. Welcome.

you’re here to learn from new and seasoned technology leaders who all share a passion for improving the craft of technology management. Let’s take a deep dive into management, leadership challenges, and best practices specific to software engineering and technology teams. Do you want more engineering management, leadership tactics and information subscribe it’s simple to receive the latest updates from this podcast.

Hi, I’m your host Christian. McCarrick. This is the simple leadership podcast. Welcome back. Good afternoon, Matt. Welcome to the show. Thanks. It’s a pleasure to be here. Yeah. Awesome. And where are you calling in today from him today?

Matt Newkirk:  I’m in San Rafael, California, just North of San Francisco.

Christian McCarrick: Excellent. So we’re kind of not in the same zip code, but they’re pretty close.

Matt Newkirk: Yes.

Christian McCarrick: Awesome. Do you typically work from California at Etsy or is this just sort of, kind of the lockdown period, normal conditions?

Matt Newkirk: I work out of our San Francisco office, which is beautiful. It’s much smaller than our headquarters, but I’ve been living up in Ren for. A couple of years now. And so I tend to work out out of my home some of the time in the office, the rest of the time and have not moved during the pandemic.

Christian McCarrick: Okay. Okay. And like I ask all my guests just to give a little context, Matt. If you could give me a little bit of a, kind of a brief background about your story, how you got to be where you are today.

Matt Newkirk: Sure. So I learned to program when I was a teenager working on a Lord of the rings themed MUD, which is a multi-user dungeon or a Telnet based text game.

And I did that for about 15 years before I figured out how to actually make money off of these skills. And one of my first ventures in software development was as a quality assurance analyst working on some games. And from that piggybacked into an engineering job, working in both tests, automation, and some more like infrastructure operations, kind of all in one work.

And from there, I got an opportunity to be the first quality assurance manager for my company and with my prior QA experience, both through the mud and professionally, I thought, “Oh, sure. Let’s try that.” And so, yeah, before I knew it, I had another engineer on my team, kind of doing what I had been doing and six analysts reporting to me.

And it didn’t take long before I figured out that recording people and empowering people to solve. These bigger problems that I am not skilled to necessarily do was a lot more fun than trying to read, like outdated API documentation and try to put all the puzzle pieces together. They’re awesome. So that led me to Etsy.

That’s funny.

Christian McCarrick: I was just looking at a Twitter thread recently and it kind of showed like API docs. You just jarred my memory. It was like, it’s like, it was one of those learning to draw sort of templates that had like the star. It was like drawing an owl. I had like the circle and then like two eyes. And then suddenly this, like Bob Ross has asked like owl and it’s like API docs versus the final thing.

And it’s just, it’s a big stretch to get there. Yeah. Yeah. One thing. So right now you are, are at Etsy, correct? And what’s your role there?

Matt Newkirk: So I’m a senior engineering manager for our international customer experience group. And so basically my teams cover a lot of ground, but we try to make se an easier site for people to use regardless of where they’re coming from.

So whether they’re working with Etsy outside of English, or they are purchasing things from somebody who doesn’t speak their own language, We try to make it a lot easier for folks to find what they are looking for and then to actually complete that sale. So we do things with localization. We do things with search optimization, machine translation, kind of all of those different things.

Christian McCarrick: Cool. Cool. And yeah. You kind of talked a little bit, how you got into being a manager and this is something I asked because we all have them, right. Any mistakes that are like stand out ones that you can actually still legally talk about, right?

Matt Newkirk: Yeah. Yeah. I think the biggest mistake that I made is probably the largest, like fundamental impact on how I see now, which is when I first started, I spent a lot of time kind of gathering requests and needs.

From my boss about what other people in the company you needed from me and my team. And then I go tell him my reports, like, Hey, this is what everybody needs from us. Let’s figure out a plan. We’ll tell them what the plan is and then we’ll do do it. And that’s it. And I kind of forgot to actually work with any of my peers.

That I was actually serving. So all those products, engineers, product managers, engineering managers, design managers. I didn’t talk to them very much at all. And I also didn’t talk to my bosses bosses to understand kind of how my group’s work was being perceived in a broader context. What we could do to look ahead, basically.

I didn’t do anything that communication, but I didn’t send a great, I can expect. Yeah. Yeah. I can say that you can only fail at that level of communication for so long before somebody makes you stop. Yeah. Yeah. It gets pointed out pretty quickly at that point, right? Yes. Yeah.

Christian McCarrick: So how did that end up with the biggest thing you learned from that?

Matt Newkirk: And the biggest thing I learned is that you can’t grade your own success for the most part. And so, especially if you’re in a support organization, You really have to understand the people you’re supporting, like what do they think of what you’re doing? Are you actually doing the job that you we’re tasked to do?

And the it’s kind of like when you give a presentation, there’s no way to tell if you successfully communicated things, unless you ask people afterwards. Or they actually like took the information that you gave them. And. Yeah. Yeah. So working in a QA organization sure. Trying to improve the quality of our code, improve the efficiency of how quickly we could launch releases.

I found a few poor metrics to try and grade myself, but it was nowhere near as effective as just talking to people and saying like, am I doing what you’re looking for? Yeah. I think that’s definitely a good point that people sometimes do tend to. Okay. They get so focused like far. So the trees, they have a discrete problem.

They look down it’s heads down. Hey, I have this great thing that didn’t solve anybody’s problems for them. Yes. That’s definitely a good point. I’ve made that mistake myself. It’s something, as I work with other managers, they certainly make that mistake as well. So on that note, something I’d like to ask also is what.

Christian McCarrick: Advice or tips that you would give to a new manager today, like they’re, they’re transitioning to, from an IC to a manager, what are some of the most fundamental things that you would recommend that they start to do?

Matt Newkirk: I think the biggest thing is like listening, but I think a more tactical approach to that is meet with people. You have to actually like have meetings with other people where they’re talking in order to really hone that listing skill. And I found, especially joining a new company in a different domain. I didn’t work in an international sector really before this that’s the biggest thing I could do is go out and talk to as many people as possible and talk to them in one off meetings and weekly peer one-on-ones in monthly or quarterly.

And just talking to everybody. Cross-functionally my peers. I found that in my former job, I overly relied on my manager to give me like the full context of everything. And now I find that my manager is like, I don’t know, 10% of the full context that I’m gathering from everybody at every level. And I think you made a good call out there too.

Because that’s something that’s not useful just for new managers, but if you take over a new role in your new company or even a new department, right. That’s great advice for even an existing managers that go into a new role. Right. Talk to people, ask questions, get the context, right? Yeah. That also helps another thing.

I can’t remember who said the quote, it was sort of. Relationships over process or something as well. Right. And those kinds of conversations can help build that when some of the process might be breaking down and you need to still get something done, right?

Christian McCarrick: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yep. One of the reasons kind of reached out to you was I had known you had sort of done a talk and written a blog post on parental leave as a manager.

And I think, I remember it was like a one sentence conversation I had in a podcast like a year and a half ago with another, I think father who had kind of come back and I said, that will be a great episode topic. And then I have never really revisited that. Right. I think it’s super important. I am the father of three girls, but I think for me during the birth of my daughters, I was either running my own startup or working at as an executive at more smaller startups.

And I was never really able to take that parental leave. Right. And I feel I missed out a little bit on that experience and not only did I miss out, I also feel I have a gap in helping people plan for taking the leave and then successfully returning from it. So that’s why I’m super excited to have you on the show to have you talk about this topic today.

So tell me about you, your kids. We were able to take parental leave for both just high level, and we can kind of go into some of the details.

Matt Newkirk: I have two children. My son is about four and my daughter is about two and I joined Etsy when my son was seven weeks old.

And so I was actually very fortunate to receive some parental leave from the company, but I. Also felt kind of that tension of I’m just forming these relationships. I don’t know what I’m doing yet. In a professional sense. It feels strange to just disappear for a few months. And so I ended up taking that leap very sporadically and taking a week or two at a time.

And I think that was good bonding time with my son as he got a little bit older, but it was very different because. When I went out, it was like I was taking vacation. And so it’d be like, see everybody, I’ll be back in a couple of weeks. If you need to make a decision, go for it. This is what I would do.

This is what I do care about, but ultimately go for it. And in reality, most of the decisions would, would either be made before that or after that. And so there was very little true delegation that had to happen other than who’s going to run this meeting. Who’s going to send that email very, very like lightweight stuff, which would happen like just normal light when anyone’s once taking a vacation for a week or two.

Anyway. So it was just kind of a series of boats. Yeah, exactly. And then when my daughter was born, I really wanted to, to take the full leaf and. I’m very, very fortunate that Etsy provides six months of leave. And so I wanted to do it for a few reasons. The first was like my wife and I have been working a lot in the lead up to that.

And it felt like kind of an opportunity to just reconnect with my family and kind of disengage from work in a healthy way for awhile. And so that was a big thing. And another thing is like, you still, you look out. Across leaders here and there. And when anybody in any position of leadership takes even a little bit of time.

Yeah. There’s articles, it’s still news. And so I wanted to add at least another data point into that pool and say like, it is possible. There are ways you can do this productively. And so I ended up taking the full six months off, which I think it was really great. I feel like I have a tighter bond with my daughter than I did with my son, because after those first seven weeks, I only saw my son the nights and weekends.

And whereas with my daughter, I was with her every day for six months. Also my being home really empowered my wife to further her career. She’s a partner at her law firm. She was able to go to her partnership meetings instead of sure. Kind of missing out on that. So I especially think that like parental leave has a huge opportunity to influence ones like partner or spouse or whomever and their career trajectory as well.

So I think that was, it was really important to me that I. Take advantage of it and not just leave it on the table, kind of let it atrophy. Like I had my son’s parental leave.

Christian McCarrick: Yeah, no, I think that’s good. And you brought up a point too. It makes news or there’s articles about it, but I think so by taking in more people taking it, it’s also role modeling that it’s okay.

And then if you have the ability, which we’ll talk to him a little bit later and you are lucky enough to have that ability that it would be okay to take it. And it’s not just a paper sort of benefit that no one uses. Right. Like unlimited vacation. Exactly. Which is another thing. So now, I mean, as a father, too, on that topic, did you feel any stigma at all, either inside or outside the company, the community for taking that much?

Matt Newkirk: No. It was interesting. When I went out, there were two managers reporting to me and I looked at it as a way for them both to. Kind of get out from under my shadow in some ways, because also as a manager of managers, it takes time to develop the skills of letting the people reporting to you, like do their own thing, like figuring out their own processes and their own practices and all of that.

And so I wanted to take me out of the equation for a little bit and give them the opportunity to really think about a lot of these things. And they did, they really rose to the occasion and I think had a great six months while I was away. Yeah. And I think that’s a great point, right. That you just made, I think is a great opportunity for other managers too.

This is an opportunity, as you just mentioned. Having people be able to step up a bit, maybe not even a manager, maybe they are wanting to test out being a manager a little bit. Maybe we want to trial it a temporary position. There’s no real like, guarantee that they’re going to stay in it. So if it works out great, if it doesn’t no harm, no foul, hopefully, but yeah, no, that’s a great point you did there.

Yeah. So I think there wasn’t really a stigma. I think the biggest thing, like pre companies that have. Maybe there are windows where there are more planning processes or performance reviews or other things. There were some places that I needed to make some extra plans to either say like, I am fully relinquishing any input into this, or here is all that I can provide in anticipation of these decisions.

Sure, but I didn’t really get any pushback and it was relatively easy to decide to take that six months.

Christian McCarrick: Well, that’s great. And congratulations to Etsy too, for being such a supportive company that does support that even at Facebook. Now we have a really good parental leave for maternal and paternal leave too.

So that’s really good. And I do encourage people to do take that interesting enough for me. I have three employees right now that are currently on leave all at the same time, which does make it a little interesting. But like you said, it does, some people are stepping out. They’re stepping up, they’re backfilling a little bit.

So I think it gives people, allows them to stretch a little more in ways they might not have had the opportunity to do in the past. Right. Yeah. And I think one thing you talk about Matt, especially on your kind of blog sites sort of thing. When you talk about this, you go into pretty good detail of all the steps that you went through kind of as a manager to prepare to go on leave. Maybe if you could kind of go through some of those highlights of those best tips for some of my listeners who might be planning to go on leave.

Matt Newkirk: Yeah, I think at the high level, the first thing is building out plan. And for me, I was managing many different teams with kind of different scenarios.

Yeah. Sometimes it’s easy and you just say, all right, one person, you are going to be my delegate for all things. And sometimes it’s way more complicated and ultimately building out a plan where it’s clear to all of your stakeholders who is going to take on your responsibilities and it’s clear to the, to your delegates.

Yeah, that they are actually going to do those things. I think building that plan out, it takes a bunch of time. It took me probably two or three months to actually iron out all of the details. And you also, I think when you go through that process, you find that you hit a bunch of like, Local Maxima. So first pass is okay.

All the people that I can think of these are, who could actually do this. And then you talk to your department lead and they’re like, Oh, have you thought about this person? I think we’d be in a great position to take this on. And then that passes up and it’s like, Oh, have you thought about this? And it does take a little bit of time to find something that is lower friction.

Little smoother. So I would definitely recommend that folks take the time to figure this out and try and have this done. I would say at least a month out. I know so many folks that have scheduled their time leading up to parental leave and I’ll finish these things three weeks before I go out and their baby comes early.

Christian McCarrick: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Typically the good thing about parental leave is. For the most part, except for maybe some early than expected deliveries, you pretty much have an idea that it’s coming so you can plan for it. So would you say then maybe two months out might be a good starting point or even earlier?

Matt Newkirk: I would say that around the time you’re comfortable telling your boss. Okay. You’re going to go out is the time to start thinking about it? Yeah. I think those are different conversations. The hello, “I’m going to be going out” and “Hello, this is what I was thinking about for handing off my projects or delegating responsibilities.”

Those should have a firewall between them. But I think that’s not too early. And I think for most of these plans, they don’t really expire. So even if you’re working on this project and it wraps up earlier than you thought, like, that’s fine. Just cross that out and then just don’t sign up for the next big thing that is coming down.

Christian McCarrick: Sure. Kind of interesting conversation part there, but what do you recommend the best way is to tell your manager that like, Hey, I’m going to be gone for six months. I know we have a lot of work on the table and. Were you nervous at all where you’re like, what, what is his response going to be?

Matt Newkirk: I was not very nervous.

And I acknowledged that. Like, I think I have plenty of privilege that makes it a easier situation for me being a white man. It’s a lot easier to say, like, I’m going to go out on parental leave. I think there are some assumptions, whether that I will not be the primary caregiver for my children or. That when I come back to work, everything will be normal, whether it is so it’s certainly not something you want to wait till the last minute to do though, also.

Right. And I would say like for managers, I think your job before that happens is to make sure that your reports trust you enough, that they don’t have to wonder, like what’s going to happen. Am I going to miss out on opportunities? Am I going to. My job, am I going to get reassigned? Am I going to get the side eye for the next six months until I have to go out like as a manager, like your job is to make sure that none of those things are happening.

Christian McCarrick: Yeah, totally. Makes sense. Kind of one of the things you talked about, and during that time was. You also had a plan for kind of coming back, right. So there’s a plan for leaving and then another plan read for coming back. I think you called it reintegration plan something. Right? What are the most things that you kind of had in that plan?

And did you share that with kind of your boss, like before you were back officially and sort of walk me through how that worked a bit.

Matt Newkirk: Yeah. So what I knew was for me in particular, I was coming back to a reorg. And so I had a new boss. I wasn’t really sure like how all of the business units fit together anymore.

And I just knew that it wasn’t my job figure that out yet while I was out, my job was to like change diapers, spend time with my kids and my wife. And that was it. And so. The first thing I did was I contacted my new boss and said like, Hey, I’m thinking about coming back around this time and I’m not gonna really do anything until yeah.

Then I started thinking about how I would actually spend my time. And when I had first started at sea, my boss. Put a book on my desk, which was like the first 90 days. And I didn’t, I got sidetracked with onboarding. I remember very clearly that it was spend the first 30 days, like figuring stuff out and really like listening to people and understanding what perceived problems are.

And don’t worry about acting too much in those first 30 days. The next 30 the days is about like building hypotheses and then. Trying to test those with new data. Then the third 30 days is like acting. Maybe I’m misremembering. If you read the books today, you have a different thing, but that’s what I took away from it.

And that’s what I heard I would do with this returning from parental leave as well. So. I just knew. All right, I’m going to spend the first month having one on ones with everybody in my group. I think there were about 25 people. Or so when I went back, I knew that there were going to be a lot of people around the company that I wanted to check in with and see, like, how has the company changed its mind about all of these different things or hasn’t.

And, and I also knew that for me with two minutes under me and this initiative to care about. Something else was going to come up, but I couldn’t planned for, and didn’t want to plant for playing for other than to say sometime, maybe in the third year, I’ll care about this. And so I wrote that down in a very concise couple of bullet points.

Shared that with my boss. And he was like, yeah, that sounds fine. And so it was a very informal thing. Well, formal thing that I wrote down and shared with him for both, and then I just told him, yeah, everybody else, what I was doing when I came back and said, this is the time that I’m talking to people.

Well, don’t feel afraid to put time. Well, my calendar, because all I’m doing is talking to people. So you’re not going to interrupt my many other things. There are no many other, yeah. Yeah, it’s actually a perfect time. Right? Kind of everything, the avalanche and everything, you get knee deep and everything again, and then sorry to get on the calendar.

Christian McCarrick: Yeah. So you mentioned a couple of things, communication kind of upward and outward and downward seems to be the, I think a theme too, of just good management practice in general and especially during times of transition. Right. So continuing doing that during this. You also, I think mentioned that once you came back, it felt a little bit awkward. I want you to describe that a little bit.

Matt Newkirk: Yeah. I would say that, especially having my first kid, I would say that my and degraded a little bit. And the second one, push that further. To the point that the office I was working out of had also grown somewhat significantly while I was out. And yeah, so there were quite a few people that I just wasn’t sure if I had met them before I had gotten out or not, and I was wrong many times I said, hello, and the people with the wrong name.

And it was very embarrassing, I have to say. And there were a lot of times when I really wasn’t sure like the managers who had been kind of covering for me had done a really great job. It delivered a lot. They built out great plans. They had started executing on them and done. And a lot of things that I had found like self care it’s in like, Oh yeah, the team likes it.

When I do this, the team can rely on me for solving these kinds of problems. And I think, yeah, it was Molly Graham who had the whole like giveaway your Lego thing and. I think that’s the, I can’t remember her exact words, but like eventually you have to give away the things that you’re good at. And then you got other things.

And for me coming back, it was a bit of a mixture. Like in the one hand, some of the things, it was good to let other people keep owning. And then there were other things where at first, so it was like, Oh, everybody’s doing a great job. I don’t need to do this anymore. And then you dig in a little bit more and it’s like, Yeah, savings be great job.

And your contributions are wanted. That’s right. That’s right. And so it really didn’t take very long month or so of getting more than this surface level understanding of how things are to figure out like where you can start to provide value. And. At least for me as a manager, like I get those little dopamine hits every time, somebody like, how do I do this?

Who would you talk to you about this? What kind of solution would you suggest for this problem? Like all of those little things, I think make it a lot clearer, like, Oh, I’m in the right place. I’m providing value to other people. It’s good that I logged on today. Yeah. Yeah. That’s good. I think it’s tough.

Right? When you, at that surface, it’s sort of like the Instagram view of things. So everything looks great. They don’t need me. But like you mentioned it again, you’re like they’re doing it, but the weight of is crushing them a little bit. They’re looking to hand things back and in some cases maybe they have grown and then that frees you up to then work on some other larger things like in the Molly Graham post.

Christian McCarrick: Yeah, exactly. I want to flip it a little bit. And as a manager, especially to some of my listeners. What are the things that you can suggest that they can best help support any employees they have that might be going or coming back from leave? Yeah. So I think the first thing, when somebody tells you like, Hey, I’m going to be going out on leave.

Matt Newkirk: And like you mentioned before, usually ahead of time, it’s the adoption that may not be the case. That may be a tomorrow. Okay. This is happening or today, but whenever it happens, I think just. Your one job there is to make them feel at ease. So congratulations. That’s great news. I hope not. And like put your head in your hands.

Like that’s probably not the right. Correct, exactly like that. How are we going to deal is not the right question at that moment. And so I think just. One letting them know that you’re there for them and to support them with whatever they need to do over the next, probably year of their life and beyond the next thing is figuring out when they’re going to share that information and tell it, they know that you’ll hold onto it until then your company might have some specifics around HR, but usually it’s like an employee should tell HR when they’re going to go on leave and your manager needs to tell them.

And then the next piece after that is. Like we’ll talk over the coming time. Assuming there is time about setting up delegation plans, no time, then that’s your job as the manager, that’s fine. They don’t have to worry about it. And then once they’re out, there is one question which is like, what information do they want from you while they’re out?

So for example, I have sent texts to reports who have been out because they got a raise and I wanted to know if. They just wanted a number or if they wanted a meeting, like happy to do both, I can front load some of those expectations for me. I wanted to know if I was going to go through a reorg. And so I ended up having a very nice but short meeting while I was on leave.

Just to understand a little bit more of the lay of the land. Sure. And then other than no’s expected, communications just kind of leave them alone. And so even if. Something’s on fire. Maybe they would be a great person who can come and solve something. Just leave your company is actually going to fold. It can wait, great opportunity for somebody else to dig in and invest Seagate and solve things.

So as you were saying, just kind of leave them alone. Yeah. So. Unless things are on fire. You really just want to leave them alone unless the company is that actually going to fold because they have the API keys or something. Otherwise it’s a good opportunity for somebody else to dig in gain some domain knowledge, get that leadership experience.

Like this can be a very happy situation for everybody maybe to take an extra few days, but you can play with those trade offs. And so assuming you’ve left them alone. Then eventually they’ll, they’ll be ready to come back. And I would say, as a manager, just be really flexible about their return schedule.

I’ve seen some managers look at things like, okay, so we have this project that is going to be due on this date and we have to start on this date and that we can push that back for this person to come back from leave. They can run that project. And I would say, do not do that instead. I would say. Work with your report to figure out what their return schedule is.

Something that a lot of very smart people like Tara Feener I have mentioned is really having this transitional return schedule. So maybe starting on a Thursday or a Friday, maybe having and have a part time first full week, because part of that is figuring out logistics, like maybe they have a new daycare or, or school or something, and that the household doesn’t necessarily know.

Who they’re in a better position to do drop off or pick up? How do all of these meetings fit in? I know with my family situation, starting with one thing and switching a few minutes later, just because it wasn’t working out. And so flexibility is really key there. And let your report know that they have the ability to tell you.

When they need to come back and it really helps if you can just be extra flexible, even if they’ve used up all of their principal these days or whatever, it just, those few half days, or whatever are not worth. Squabbling over. Yeah. And then from there, I think just like, don’t make any assumptions. I think some folks come back and they already changed person.

They heard sleep deprived. They have no memory. They are just having difficulty making sense of the world. And then there are people not like me. They find it a little bit easier to come back and you really can’t make any assumptions either way. And as I mentioned in my lead dev talk, like it’s helpful to not make any assumptive comments like.

Okay. You had a great time or you must be so exhausted. And I made the mistake not long ago enough wishing somebody just like huge congratulations for going out on parental leave. And they were like, Oh yeah, actually it’s the longer story. And I immediately felt that’s kind of regret and realized like I should not be making any assumptions.

Christian McCarrick: That’s a good point.

Matt Newkirk: Yeah. And then I think the rest of it is the stuff that you see in regular management training programs, don’t reduce opportunity for people coming back, be flexible, especially if they need to get drop off their kids, pick them up to use nursing rooms or anything like that. Just flexibility is really the name of the game and just kind of work with your report.

Christian McCarrick: Yeah. Yeah. That’s definitely good. And I think one thing I want to point out too, that. It depends a little bit. There’s some federal laws in States. Well, I was on top of it, but parental leave typically also isn’t you don’t ask your manager for it, right? It’s a given, uh, and it’s an informing thing. So as a manager, you can say, Oh no.

Matt Newkirk: And that’s why in a lot of companies too, that parental leave works strictly with HR and not with the manager, just because it’s the manager, except for some day to day logistics and how we’re going to make it work is out of the loop. Like there’s no approval, there’s none of that sort of stuff. Right.

Christian McCarrick: Absolutely. Yeah. Something else I want to talk at here is COVID, it’s sort of something we can’t ignore. It’s super challenging working from home and then working from home independently and kids and trying to like school. I know my kids start school tomorrow and I’m still not really sure how that’s gonna work.

So as a manager, how would you best support employees who are parents in this current time?

Matt Newkirk: Yeah, it’s really, I think that manager discretion can go a fairly long way and just saying, I’ve told my folks like, take it anytime you need, you don’t need my approval. Go for it. You already have it. Do what you need to do, let people know.

But otherwise, and I would say this goes for non-parents as well. I think. A lot of people have, are feeling the impact of this very long shelter in place. But I think for parents, the other thing that companies can do is provide more explicit guidance, listened to like Laura Hogan and. She’s very fine with like biceps or the scarf model, which are effectively the same thing.

And I think certainty is a really key fear in both of those. And especially now, when it’s not clear, how am I going to do? What’s expected of me while also providing distance learning for my children who might be in the same room as me right now, and making a lot of noise and tearing up my papers.

Hypothetically, of course. Yeah. I think in all of those circumstances like that uncertainty is the biggest detriment to folks feeling of safety, no matter what a manager can say. Sure. So I think like trying to. Be certain about these things. Like one thing that I found to be valuable is saying like, we’re all going to take a team mental health day off, and nobody has to feel special and taking a mental health day off.

Everybody needs mental health days off. Yep. Yup. And when we do it together, there’s no sense of missing out or like that person is moving ahead and I have to catch up with them or when it comes time for performance reviews, if that person is there and I’m not like, how is that going to be balanced out?

And I think these are all things that I’m seeing across the industry. People are trying to figure out how to provide more certainty. And I don’t know if it’s fully there yet, but I think at least as a manager, understanding when that certainty doesn’t exist yet that your people need much more support from you as explicitly as possible.

And I’ve learned from a lot of. Great leaders lately that having strong written communication is key. And then following it up on the ground is even more so, and I liked the written communication a little bit more because it’s written down, it’s a commitment and you can refer back to it. It feels like more of a compact then like Christian, I support you.

But no. Where is it written down? Like, no, here’s the paper. Right? Bring the receipts. Right. I want to flip that a sec too. And you’re an engineering leader with kids now, as you just mentioned in this time, you’re expected to have some more answers. You’re expected to have some more support, but MIMO, I know a lot of.

Christian McCarrick: Other engineering leaders are also sort of struggling themselves with certainty and where do they get their support from? So any tips you have as a parent leader yeah. And hear how you’re going through this and how you’re kind of dealing with it.

Matt Newkirk: Yeah, I would say like early on in March, I guess I ended up having to work a split shift.

So I would do meetings from about seven ish till noonish. And then my wife would then do her focus day and then the kids are good or bad around seven or eight. And then we would end up doing more work in the evening and it was not. Great.

I would say I’m very fortunate right now that our kids are getting enough, that they are going to daycare and not to other school. And right now, which I feel like is on a minute by minute, day by day thing. But right now our daycare is open. It feels like they’re doing things that are reducing the risk profile enough that.

We are somewhat guilty sending them, but as a results, now I have a more open day say that while I was working on that really reduced schedule, what I felt like I had to do was put myself out there more with the teams to be more visible Slack and meetings. There were entire sets of meetings that I couldn’t attend just because were during my non focused time.

And so. There are gaps. And this kind of goes back to that parental leave document, but you have to delegate something. And in my case, it means delegating technical decisions to other engineering leaders in our group, or kind of making concerns or constraints known so that other people can make good decisions.

Ultimately, I think it boils down to over-communication and really trying to repeat and reiterate. So, you know, Sending an email is good, but if you’re like me, you have no memory of it. What email you read yesterday? So you have to follow that up with Slack messages. And if it’s something that’s really crucial, you need to follow it up again in case you missed it, or like, let’s just revisit this thing because I don’t have any longterm memory anymore.

And even. Today, I knew you were going to ask me about my background and I had to really think about it in a way that I could put it together into a package thought, because I had to look at LinkedIn to figure out how long I’ve been managing. Yeah. Kids do do that. Yeah. I have a former employee that says Christian, you forget things sometimes.

So I was like, well, yeah, thanks. Appreciate that. He’s like, no, no, no, that wasn’t it. Bad thing. It was just, but you write things down, so you compensate. So it’s good. I was like, okay, thank you. I guess. So one thing I do want to point out as we kind of come to the, to the wrap of the show a little bit, that we are having this conversation, but you mentioned it briefly in the beginning, we’re able to have this conversation too, because we have a sort of privilege and we both worked for companies.

Our backgrounds afforded us a privilege to be able to take parental leave. And that is not always the case or available to lots of people for lots of reasons. So, I mean, I’m really glad we’re having this conversation, but I do want to point out that this is not something that is afforded to everybody and we should make sure that we can do the best that we can to bring this opportunity to more people.

Whether it’s in different companies or socioeconomic classes. I think it’s super important as a thing that we can do to try to support those more broadly. Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that is, I made a joking comment about how, when somebody, when a male leader especially takes parental leave it’s news, I think the more we can do to normalize that and make it so that this is one of those benefits alongside vacation or sick days or health insurance, and really normalize that, especially in places where.

State laws don’t provide these sorts of guidance. Before I came to Etsy, I was looking at six weeks of parental leave. And even that I did not know how I was going to make that work logistically in my last job for

Christian McCarrick: yeah, no, that’s great. And as we kinda wrap up one other thing, I want to ask you what to ask my guests to any favorite books, podcasts, anything that you’ve read a long time ago that stayed with you, or just something you read this week, which is according to you is all you can remember these days.

Matt Newkirk: So yeah, there were like three things that I recommend. One is five dysfunctions of a team really changed for me and understanding of like the value of understanding different business functions in your company and how your work directly impacts their work and there’s yours. And also just asking the question, like, do they even know that I exist? And if not, like let’s change that. Another was a lead developer talk that Lara Hogan and deepest you remaining cave. In New York in 2018 called revitalizing across functional product organization, it’s become the talks that I recommend that any new engineering manager or any engineering manager, joining a new company and recommending it to their people manager partner as well in really building out a partnership so that you’re fully aligned on message so that you don’t sit in a room with your reports and your partner and your partner is surprising.

All of you. Or you were surprising everybody else either. You can make sure that the number of surprises is very minimized. Sure. Yeah. I recommend that one too. So, yeah. And then I think the last thing is I follow a very broad group of people smarter than me on Twitter. So like a handful of people that I’d recommend, or like Michael Harriot, Alice goldfyss, Ann Hjortshøj, and pie bob AKA, Rachel Perkins. If you just followed those four people, you would find like a very informative feed of news events, whether in tech or in the world. And it’s definitely changed my perspective and I think positive way.

Christian McCarrick: Awesome. And like usual for listeners of the show. If you go to simple, we will try to put as many of those links as possible. So you can just kind of click through to them. Matt. Is there any best way if someone kind of wants to take up this topic with you and talk in more detail about it, what’s the best way to kind of get to talk to you or catch up with you?

Matt Newkirk: Sure. I’m pretty active on Twitter at M Newkirk and I respond to almost every non sales pitch on LinkedIn. So feel free to reach out if you send a message, I will likely respond.

Christian McCarrick: Okay. Well perfect. Hey, Matt really enjoyed the conversation today. I thought it was timely. It was helpful and very informative. So thank you very much for your time and your on the job expertise in this area.

Matt Newkirk: Thank you. It was a delight to think back to my friends over here. One more time.

Christian McCarrick: All right. Great. Have a great day.

Matt Newkirk: Thanks you too.

Christian McCarrick: Thank you for listening to this episode of the Simple Leadership podcast, hosted by me, Christian McCarrick. If you have enjoyed the show, please subscribe and no forget to leave a review on iTunes, full show notes and additional information can be found on simple

If you knew someone who would be a great guest for the show, or you want to share your own experiences, please drop me a line. We’ll see you back next week for more technology, leadership tips and advice is I interviewed more top software engineering leaders. .