Parental leave is the pain in your butt you have to have

M&C Saatchi group MD, Russell Hopson
By M&C Saatchi group MD, Russell Hopson | 26 February 2019
Russell Hopson

Bill Hicks is a hero of mine. He’s funnier than me, for a start. He’s also a great one for iconoclasm. One of my favourites being his rant (think shouty, American, early alt comedy): ‘Your children ARE NOT SPECIAL’. He makes the point that while you may think so, your children really aren’t anything to brag about, a point he illustrates with several unsavoury examples of how easy it is to make them, at least for a man. It’s very funny.

I’ve had Bill’s speech go through my head as a series of amazing women here at M&C Saatchi have marched through my (metaphorical) office and told me the brilliant news that they’re expecting. Professional discretion has been my guide, though. As our lawyers would, no doubt, be delighted to hear.

And the reason for my misanthropy? Misopaedia even?

It’s a massive pain in the butt.

The women in question just happen to be some of the best people it’s been my pleasure to work with. And our clients seem to share that view. They cover a tremendous amount of ground, are proactive and sensitive to client needs and businesses and balance all the things a good advertising person should. All whilst remaining great company and all-round legendary people. And last year, 10 of them went on leave. 10!

It’s a challenge for a small to medium enterprise, like any agency, when 10 people disappear for months at a stretch. Especially for a client-service business which is feeling the pinch of transformation, change and impact on margins.

Real talent is scarce, as we all know, and replacing these legends, even temporarily, is a real headache. I’ve had more than one sceptical narrowing of the eye from clients as I attempt to reassure them of their temporary new team members. So far, my promises have been upheld, but from a management point of view, it can feel like a treadmill of recruitment.

And it’s expensive. The perfect person, starting and ending at the perfect time, fitting exactly in the allotted maternity leave period, surprisingly, doesn’t always happen. We often hire more senior, for longer than we need – just to make sure the quality is there and the handovers are real. And in the end, it’s our margins that suffer.

But, you know what? In spite of all that corporate bellyaching, we jolly well owe these women. And if we honour our debts we’ll be better businesses and institutions for that very fact. And they will return to work absolute warriors.

I’ve never met a person who can manage time like a young parent – especially a mum. They’re more efficient than a Teutonic railway. And resilience! Such staying power. As Morrissey says: “It takes strength to be gentle and kind,” and no one knows that like a mum. That’s the kind of strength that we need in our business.

And we don’t just owe the women. We owe the young dads too. That’s why if you don’t have a paternity program, you need to get one. You could argue that men have even more to learn as they become parents; and those of us who emerge from the torture of sleep deprivation and teddy’s tea parties have such a sense of what we are capable of. It’s life changing.

But don’t get me started on what happens when you add the men on paternity leave. For us, that’s currently five taking the total to 15. Honestly, there must be something in the water here at Macquarie Street.

Still, here’s the bottom line. It’s about fairness. This is not a gender thing.

We expect a lot from all our people, and they are perfectly entitled to expect a lot back. Since we expect them to bring their A game to work, we should do everything we can to help them have their A game at home too.

The downside? A pain in my butt. The upside? A phalanx of fans working for us who have learned to cope with some of life’s toughest challenges (a cuddle for a child with novovirus at 3am, anyone?) and have emerged with a set of soft skills to add to their already serious awesomeness.

So, Bill may well be right. Perhaps our children are not special. But their parents bloody well are. And those are the people you want working for your agency. I know I do.

By Russell Hopson, group managing director for M&C Saatchi Group

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