Thanks to a corporate culture of well-being, a sales director dad takes three parental leaves—and explains why he’s a stronger leader for it
Not all companies offer paid parental leave to non-birthing parents, but thankfully for Dave Eitler, Forrester is one of those companies.
An organization that promotes employee well-being and encourages time off, Forrester actually increased paid leave for non-birthing parents from three weeks to six weeks in 2019 – the year Dave Eitler welcomed his second child.
Having the additional time off made his parental leave experiences vastly different than when his first child was born in 2017. Although he took his first leave all at once, he used the end to “ease back into work” – which really meant he mentally disconnected from leave and mentally re-connected to work, but was in a limbo state of not being good at either one.
The second and third times around, Dave refused to make the same mistake. Having double the amount of time, he decided to divide his leave so he could take time off during two distinct phases of his babies’ early lives.
To avoid falling into old habits, Dave used an out-of-office reply that asked email senders to work with a trusted colleague in his absence or re-send the note after his return date if it required his personal attention. This small step removed the need for Dave to get bogged down in thousands of messages upon his return.
For other non-birthing parents considering taking parental leave, Dave recommends zooming out to think about it in the context of your entire career. He had a realization that changed his perspective completely:
This little blip of time meant nothing professionally, and yet that same blip of time meant everything to his family.
Dave now works in a sales leadership role that is more stable and requires less travel than before. He says this has helped him as both a father and as an employee because he feels a greater sense of predictability and structure in his work and in life.
He’s a strong believer – and example – that it’s possible to be a great parent AND a great professional, and one can drive the other with the right motivations and perspective.
Read Dave’s full Q&A below to learn more about how his parental leaves helped him strategize better annual account planning and his approach to pipeline management
What did you do in preparation for parental leave to help set yourself up for longer-term career success?
“I first took a huge step back and thought about the impact of taking an extended leave. Stepping away from a job for multiple weeks or months may seem risky in the moment, but when I thought about the course of a 30-year working career, I realized that this little blip of time meant nothing professionally. And yet, that same blip of time meant everything to my family. So, step one was convincing myself it was OK, and once I crossed that chasm, the rest of the preparation became easier. I was also fortunate that Forrester wasn’t a place where I needed to convince anyone around me that parental leave was important. Sure, sales is stressful at times and it’s all about monthly/quarterly/annual performance. But, the culture of employee well-being completely overshadowed that.”
What mistakes did you make? Are there things you wish you had done differently before, during or after your parental leave?
“During my first parental leave, I told myself I’d be using the tail-end of the leave to ‘ease back into work.’ A few emails and texts here and there—what was wrong with that to get ahead on the mountain of things waiting for me, right? Horrible idea. I didn’t ease back into anything. I just started thinking about work, worrying about what I was reading and hearing…but without being fully back and able to really do anything about it. I mentally disconnected from my leave and mentally re-connected to work, but I was in this limbo state of not being good at either one. I didn’t make that mistake with babies two and three.”
What worked really well in your re-onboarding experiences? What helped you feel good and up to speed faster?
“I used an out-of-office reply that asked the senders to please work with a trusted colleague in my absence or, if it needed my personal attention, to please re-send the note to me after my return date. This put the onus back on the colleague to contact me if the matter was truly still urgent and unresolved when I returned, rather than putting the stress on myself to comb through thousands of emails and messages looking for the most important things and worrying I missed something critical. This is a best practice I recommend to anyone taking any sort of extended leave. Don’t put the burden of your absence solely on yourself.”
What did your manager or company do that was really helpful to your success transitioning back to work?
“Forrester as an organization promotes employee well-being and encourages time off. I felt zero pressure to ‘dive back in quickly’ when my leave ended. I laid out my own re-entry schedule: light on day one and easing back in for the next few days. By the end of the first week back, I didn’t feel overwhelmed. This was a testament to having a positive relationship with my immediate team, and having them understand my re-entry would be challenging, especially with my first child.”
What tips and tricks do you have specifically for sales reps who are taking parental leave?
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Set up a support system of sales peers and management long before you leave. Take time for a thorough knowledge transfer and nominate one delegate to be ‘you’ when you’re out so you can streamline the catch-up when you return, rather than catching up with dozens of people.”
How exactly did you handle transitioning over your pipeline before going on leave? What worked well? What did not?
“When I was in an individual contributor role, I was very transparent with clients about my upcoming child and tried to use it as leverage to pull business in sooner. This approach also exposed the business that was likely not coming in until after I returned, so I didn’t need to stress about it. I left all information and contract material with my most trusted peer and my manager, and I put my fate in the hands of others. Forrester has very fair policies when it comes to earning commissions while on leave, so there was no stress of missing out on earnings potential while I was out.”
One of the biggest challenges for a sales rep returning from leave is having to rebuild their pipeline without a ramp goal. How did you approach the return to work period without getting overwhelmed?
“It started with changing my approach to annual account planning. In mapping out my year and where the business was going to come from, I crossed two months off the calendar and prepared a strategy to achieve our business targets in just 10 months. It created additional urgency from the beginning, and made the leave much less disruptive to the flow of business during the year. It helped me build a healthier pipeline before leaving and reduced stress when the pipe was emptier than usual when I returned, because I planned for it that way!
As a leader, putting a delegate in place to manage and coach the team and carry forward the vision and strategy in my absence mitigated a lot of the pipeline softness when I returned. It also provided a great leadership opportunity for some of the rising stars underneath me and, in some cases, their approaches to leadership while I was out taught me new ways of thinking.”
What is one professional achievement that you’re most proud of since becoming a parent and why?
“Since our first child five years ago, I’ve been fortunate to earn two new opportunities and promotions which, aside from the earnings growth and expanded responsibilities, landed me in a more stable position requiring less travel and with less volatile earnings month-to-month and year-to-year. This stability has helped me as a father and as an employee because I feel more sense of predictability and structure in my work and in life. Being a parent is what drove me to shift my career focus in a positive way.”
Many parents say that once they had children their “bar” became higher. They no longer tolerated wasteful work, unproductive meetings, etc. What else would you say changed as it relates to your career or work style once you had kids?
“Parenthood has given me the ultimate perspective. Work can be rewarding in many ways, but it’s ultimately a means to an end. That end is giving my children an opportunity to learn, grow and be comfortable and secure in their lives. Since parenthood, work feels much more even keel. Highs aren’t as high because nothing is as great as being with the kids; lows aren’t as low because no matter how tough a day, at the end of it I have my kids waiting for me, and stress washes away quicker.”
How would you describe the difference between returning to work after your first child vs. your second and third children?
“I definitely had a better plan after our first child. I broke my leave into two chunks with the second and third children, and I highly recommend this to others. It allowed me to have time off during two distinct phases of the baby’s early life. It also reduced the dread at the end of the first chunk because I knew I had another chunk to look forward to soon! I think it was more helpful to my wife, too, especially with our third child because going from two to three was a big jump. I was able to support her with the newborn, then she got a short taste of having all three without me, then I was back for support in the second chunk a short time later. It really worked for us.”
As your children have gotten older, how has that changed your perspective on how to balance parenthood with career (if at all)?
“I’ve always had a ‘work-to-live’ not ‘live-to-work’ mindset. As our kids have grown and gotten involved in their own sports and activities that I want to be a part of, that has only been validated for me. But, at the same time, it’s a balance. I can’t lose commitment to my job, because the better I work, the more I can provide our family. And I believe that the work/life flexibility my employer affords me is earned, not owed. So, I don’t think it’s an either/or question. I think you can be a great parent AND a great professional, and one can drive the other if you have the right motivations and perspective.”
Being a father in a sales leadership role who took 6+ weeks, how did you use your paternity leave to help advocate for other non-birthing parents to take advantage of their paid parental leave?
“I try to lead by example when it comes to taking parental leave (or any PTO, frankly). I take it without hesitation when I need it and I try to completely disconnect whenever I do. I encourage my team to take a similar approach. I share tactics with others, like uninstalling work apps from my phone to make it nearly impossible to accidentally stumble upon something related to work while casually flipping through apps. My hope is that this sets an example for everybody who works for or around me and makes others feel the permission to completely disconnect like I do.”
You mentioned that the paid parental leave policy changed at your company between the time your children were born. How did the increase in time off positively impact your family? What about your career?
“Forrester increased paid leave for non-birthing parents from three weeks to six weeks the year my second child was born. The problem was, the change came after I had already taken the three weeks of leave for my second baby. Instead of missing out, Forrester let me use the difference any time in the following year – in addition to all other normal PTO.
My challenge became I had too much time to take off the next year, but I knew I wanted to take it. I came up with a solution with my manager that the least disruptive way to apply the added parental leave was to take ‘summer Fridays.’ So, I essentially had four-day work weeks all summer, plus all usual vacations. This was such a bonus for our entire family and I had so much extra quality time with my kids that year. Looking back, I’m actually glad it happened the way it did, instead of taking all 6 weeks in the year of the birth.”
Many fathers we speak with are torn between taking one long parental leave or splitting it into two parts. What should they take into consideration when weighing these two options?
“Consider: Is it your first child? If so, it’s likely you won’t have the parenting thing down, and you may need more consecutive weeks right away to nurture your baby through the earliest (and definitely scariest) part of life.
If it’s your second or third child, you may be more confident and so it becomes less terrifying and more rewarding to nurture your newborn. Consider spreading the leave out into two chunks, so you can enjoy two phases of the baby’s growth and spread out your support of the birthing parent.
My rule of thumb would be not to take less than four weeks in the first chunk because anything less won’t feel like a true leave. By the time your mind has fully disconnected from work, the end will feel too near. And, if you do split up, keep at least a month between the leave segments, so you have time to fully re-enter work, make your presence known, and make an impact before leaving again.
Think about the year as a whole and when the ideal chunks of parental leave would fall if you had the choice. Maybe around winter holidays when there are more opportunities to see family. Plus, you already get some time off, so you can piggyback your parental leave on holidays and it’ll feel like longer. Maybe during summer months when there are more outdoor activities. I took a chunk of parental leave during March Madness and the Masters, which was a bonus!”
If you could give another parent [in a similar position as you] one piece of advice leading up to their parental leave, what would it be?
“Set up a support system around yourself long before your leave starts. Signal to your team your perspective on PTO well in advance—that you intend to disconnect completely. Decentralize command and put people you trust in charge of parts of your job so when you do leave, the impact is lower and so is your stress level.
Also, remember to tell yourself, No matter how important your job may seem, the world will keep turning and everything will be fine when you leave your post. Remind yourself, you’re probably not curing cancer or world hunger (unless of course that IS your job…then thank you!), so don’t take yourself or the time off too seriously. You’ve earned that time off. Take it!”
What boundaries do you maintain as it relates to work/home? How have these boundaries shifted over time?
“If you asked me before I had kids and before an ‘anywhere work’ world, I would have told you: No way do I want family and work mixing. But, a lot has changed in the last few years. While working at home, my kids make frequent cameos on video calls. Some clients and colleagues know my kids by name, and it has accelerated our personal connections. Forrester is a place where you can bring your whole self to work, including your family, if you want.”
When you look back on your parental leaves, how do you think it helped your career?
“I believe perspective is one of the most valuable traits for a leader in any professional role, especially sales. Parenthood has given me clearer perspective of what matters, centered me and made me a more effective leader over the last five years. I maintain a ‘control what you can control’ mindset and I try to impart that upon my team. Becoming a parent only reinforced this for me. Parenting teaches me what is truly worth stressing about and what is not. It has helped me shed stress at work and focus on what matters, which has been especially valuable during remote work, a global pandemic and macroeconomic uncertainty.”
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