Arlene and Ben Adams have owned Lower Hutt-based dog grooming and holiday retreat business Waglands for six years. They have a three-year-old son, Anthony, and are currently expecting a daughter.
What period of parental leave did you take from the business when your son was born, and what period are you planning to take when your daughter arrives?
Arlene: We plan to take a similar amount of time with baby number two as we did with our son, which is the 14 weeks' paid parental leave we're entitled to.
My ability to work through this period is significantly reduced, as is Ben's, although the nature of our involvement with the business means neither of us can make a completely clean break.
I'm our main dog groomer and I specialise in hand scissor work on pet and show dogs. While we have other staff that can do the basic grooming, my level of work is quite different.
Towards the end of my last parental leave period we had a student nanny come for two days a week, which allowed me to gradually return to my grooming customers.
Working and living on site worked brilliantly for both myself and the student nanny because we were always close by.
We developed our internal systems to share information within the team, and documented a number of procedures so they had better records to refer to without disturbing us.
Can you talk me through some of the challenges you've encountered in taking a complete break from the business?
Ben: We operate the business on our property, with eight staff coming and going, so there's little separation from work. When Anthony was born we blocked out the whole leave period for all full grooming appointments, and handed over as much of Arlene's supervisory and hands on work to the rest of the team.
She continued tuning in when she could, and carried on doing the financial reconciliation, payroll and accounting functions that no one else on the team could do. But I think the separation we created for her was a perfect balance of space to parent a first newborn, while still keeping a watchful presence that things were all ticking along well.
In terms of her finance role, Arlene also prepared as much as possible before Anthony was born, and then just maintained the essentials such as payroll and GST filing. Our accounts are done with Xero so it was easy for Arlene to grab the tablet and do a few minutes work when the opportunities arose. The day she came out of hospital she was doing the payroll, but she had outsourced the rostering and timesheet functionality to a company called Rosterit, and the payroll processing to SmartPayRoll. So a normally time consuming task took her only 20 minutes to do.
What are some of the other things you've done in the business to prepare for taking parental leave?
Ben: Training, training, training. With our firstborn arriving right at the start of the summer holiday season, it couldn't have been worse timing to be absent. So we did things like increasing our team size, working on getting our whole team to be more autonomous, and developed some team members to take on more customer focussed roles.
Developing systems and processes was another focus. We developed our internal systems to share information within the team, and documented a number of procedures so they had better records to refer to without disturbing us. We took three two-day absences off site in the lead-up to due date, just to butt out and let the team take the lead, and that identified opportunities for further preparation.
Utilising technology is another area. As well as using some of those systems I mentioned earlier, this year we're installing a specialised software program from Australia that manages boarding retreats. It's quite an amazing piece of software that allows better management of the dogs in our care, but it also allows for greater communication across our team and ourselves.
What's the biggest lesson you've learnt about successfully managing parental leave as business owners that you think would be useful to share?
The hardest thing in a small business is to make yourself unavailable and to let go of many really important activities, but there are so many benefits to you personally when you're challenged with the need to do this. It does come at a cost because you can no longer be as involved in things within the business, and it adds further workload in managing more staff activities even though you're less available to do so.
But having a baby is a pretty defining event in life that requires all of your attention. By stepping back from your business, it empowers the people around you to expand their capacity and autonomy, and this is an essential safety valve for both expected and unexpected absences in the future. And in our case the team were so capable and willing to do so that we all, including our business, grew a lot in the process.