Primary carer leave in action

Northrop’s new primary carer leave scheme was introduced earlier this year to create an increasingly diverse, inclusive and flexible workplace. The new policy comprises four weeks of fully paid maternity leave for birthing mothers and in addition a total of eight weeks of fully paid primary carer leave for either parent, which can be taken flexibly. 
 
New fathers have been encouraged to use the scheme to help shoulder some of the work in those early days and provide the opportunity for their partners to return to the workforce earlier, should they wish to do so. 
 
We spoke to three new fathers who’ve made use of the new policy to find out the difference it’s made to them and their families. 
 
‘It’s helped us share the load’ 
 
Newcastle-based civil engineer Laurence Gitzel was able to take four weeks of primary care leave immediately after his wife, Claire, gave birth to new bub Logan in March 2021. Logan is the couple’s second child – Audrey arrived in 2016 – and those four weeks, which Laurence supplemented with an additional two weeks of annual leave, had a significant impact on the whole family. 
 
Not only was Laurence able to spend quality time with their new arrival – time that fathers often miss out on – he was able to provide support to Claire as she recovered from childbirth. 
 
“It’s definitely helped Claire both physically and mentally – I’ve been able to give her more support,” says Laurence. 
 
“It’s given her a bit more time to recover, and it’s given me the opportunity to really enjoy those early days. They don’t stay babies for long.”
 
The remaining four weeks are going to be taken during term four of the school year. Claire, a teacher, is looking forward to getting back to work for one day a week, and Laurence will be taking a day a week off during that time to help his wife get back into the workforce. 
 
“It’s a great initiative from Northrop and a rare policy in the industry,” says Laurence. “Claire’s looking forward to easing back into work, socialising and seeing her friends – and I’m looking forward to more time with the bub!” 
 
‘I’ve got another level of understanding’ 
 
For Aaron Hughes, the arrival of his first child, Julia, in April saw him immediately take two and a half weeks off work. A further week and a half were subsequently used as needed to spend time with Julia and generally ease the burden on wife Alex. 
 
“I don’t know how people do it otherwise. It’s such a huge change,” says Aaron, Structural Section Manager in the Sydney office. 
 
Being able to spend those early weeks at home and full-time in the parenting job has opened Aaron’s eyes up to the realities of being a new parent – and he feels he’s got a far greater understanding and appreciation of what Alex is doing at home now he’s back at work. 
 
“Having the opportunity to be there full time for those early weeks shows you just how hard having a newborn is – you think it’s going to be hard, but it’s even harder than I envisaged. But because I’ve experienced it myself, I’ve got another level of empathy!” 
 
While taking a week’s leave often results in the same work waiting for you when you get back into the office, Aaron found that taking a longer period off meant the workload was handled in his absence – which is hugely important for a scheme such as this to work effectively. 
 
When Alex returns to her manager role part-time in the new year, Aaron will use the remaining four weeks of leave to take a couple of days off a week – and he’s looking forward to spending some quality father-daughter time with Julia. 
 
“It’s such an important time, and I’m lucky to have the opportunity to do that.” 
 
‘The team made it work’ 
 
When Alan Zois Margaris, Associate, Group Manager and Senior Electrical Engineer at Northrop, heard about the company’s leave offering for new parents, he had two thoughts: firstly, how great the scheme was in theory; secondly that in reality, it would be impossible for him to make use of it. 
 
“We were expecting the arrival of our second child, and when the policy was announced, I thought ‘amazing’,” says Sydney-based Alan. “However, I was concerned about what taking four weeks off would mean for my role in the business – I didn’t think it’d be possible for me to be disconnected from my teams, my fellow managers and my clients for so long.” 
 
After discussions with his managers, however, a solution was reached. By taking the time flexibly – Mondays and Tuesdays at work, the rest of the week at home – Alan was able to maintain involvement in the business’s day-to-day while spending time at home with new arrival Christian, two-and-a-half-year-old Zavier, and wife Georgia. 
 
“It worked really well,” explains Alan. “Zavier is at daycare Monday and Tuesday, so I could drop him off and pick him up, and it enabled me to stay involved in the corporate and operational sides of the business – the rest of the week, we were all together at home. It was really important, particularly to help Zavier get used to having a new brother around the place.” 
 
Alan says he would never have been able to take – or enjoy – the time away from the office without the knowledge his teams were on top of things. 
 
“I’d still get phone calls from clients randomly on those days off, but it was easy to resolve as I had the team’s support and was able to enjoy the time off on the days I wasn’t working,” he says. “I’ve always felt that safety, comfort and confidence working here, and having the policy is great – but you need the people around you to make it work.” 
 
Contributor(s)
CIVIL & ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER
PRINCIPAL, STRUCTURAL Section Manager
Associate, Group Manager, Senior Electrical Engineer
Author(s): 
Laurence GitzelAaron HughesAlan Zois Margaris

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