The Co-op’s CEO is taking time off to help her sons through their exams, setting an example for others.
The Times reported yesterday that Jo Whitfield, chief executive of Co-op Food, is to take a four-month career break from early May to help her two sons prepare for school examinations. Whitfield is quoted as saying: “I always knew that this year would be a big year with my boys undertaking key exams. We decided as a family that in order to prepare for the inevitable pressure and emotional turmoil that would involve, that when the time came, I would look to spend more time with them to ease the challenge.” The Co-op says the unpaid break is available to all employees.
We often talk about senior managers role modelling policies and why that is important and this is a clear example, showing that you can be a leader but also have a life outside work and giving permission to people lower down in the organisation to follow suit. Hopefully, other leaders will follow, including some male ones. It’s interesting too that Whitfield is taking time off for older children. Often much of the focus on family support and so forth is on the early years and school transition. Definitely a lot of support may be needed to adapt to the reality of becoming a parent. But a fair few parents I have spoken to find the secondary school years more of a challenge, when their children may be under exam pressures or facing bullying or other issues affecting their self esteem and parents feel the need to be around more for them.
I remember an HR person who was pregnant with her first child telling me that she couldn’t see what the fuss is about childcare because the problem was only a temporary one lasting a couple of years or so. I had four children at primary school or nursery at the time and was wracking my brains trying to find an affordable solution to the school holiday childcare nightmare.
Of course, every parent has a different experience and faces different circumstances. Some find it easier or harder at different stages of their children’s lives. Having more children can make it more challenging or less so in some respects because older children can play with younger ones or maybe even babysit when they get older. What is clear is that once you are a parent, you remain a parent for life, whatever happens. Even if your child dies before you, you are still their parent. You still need to spend time with them and on them. None of that time spent is wasted. An employer who gets that and models it shows that they understand that we are infinitely more than what we get paid to do and that that enriches us and them.