To support the various workstyles of its employees, Sony is proactively promoting use of its schemes of childcare leave or vacations among male employees as well.
In Japan in particular, it appears that use of available schemes is not actually very widespread.
Against this background, we asked three employees who have recently used such schemes to offer their opinions at "Port", a place for human resource development to create a new future for Sony. The topics covered included ease of use, their daily lives while on leave, and the situation after they returned to work.
Sato: I have two children and took around two months' leave using paid vacation and childcare leave when our second baby was born. I took only a few days of paid leave after our first child was born, but now she is going through something like the "terrible twos," I decided to take leave because it was far too much for my wife to handle after giving birth. When I spoke to my superior, I received approval for both my requests, and arrangements were quickly made for handing over my work to others. More and more male colleagues in my image sensor design team are taking childcare leave or vacations. They all told me not to worry about work but to do my best in child rearing. I believe this cooperative atmosphere smoothed my way to taking leave.
Kusui: I took around six months' childcare leave when my third child was born. Initially, my intention was not to take six months' off, but the birth coincided with an extremely busy time for my team, which works on mechanical designs for video cameras for broadcasting stations. As I believed a short leave would be more of a hindrance to my team's operations, I resolved to devote six months to child rearing. When I consulted my manager, he understood the situation immediately and took steps to hand over my work to others. I was anxious about informing my team members because none of them had taken childcare leave before, but when I told them honestly, they said I was not to worry because they would cover for me. To date, four of my colleagues have followed in my footsteps and taken childcare leave.
Kitagawa: I took around one months' childcare leave, timing it to coincide with my first child's birth. Being present at the birth of one's first child is a once in a lifetime experience, so I took leave because of a strong desire to become a father who has experienced this. I think it is easier to take childcare leave in the Corporate Communications & CSR Dept. where I work because quite a large proportion of my colleagues are women, so they understand the situation from their own experience. However, I was a bit hesitant about it because other colleagues were due to take leave for the same reason at the same time. But when I approached my boss about arranging the number of days off, he said, "This is a chance in a lifetime. Don't hesitate to take leave when you need to!" I was thus able to observe the birth, and spend around one month with my child.
Sato: I spent a great deal of time with my elder child during childcare leave. Until then, this had not been the case on weekdays because I often got home quite late, so I was delighted to spend so many hours together during childcare leave because it gave me the chance to observe my child's growth at close quarters. At the same time, I also learned that childrearing is a really tough job. In fact, my wife's discharge from the hospital was delayed because she had to undergo an emergency operation, so I spent several weeks together with my elder child, just the two of us. In the process, I discovered that looking after a child by myself was much tougher than I had expected. Since this made me really experience how hard it must be for my wife each day, I believe this brought us closer as husband and wife, and we have come to understand each other better in our conversations. We now have two children, so the burden of child rearing has increased even further, and I am more involved in doing what a parent should do.
Kusui: Like Sato-san, I spent six months together with my children, and consider it to have been an extremely valuable time. Since my wife and I both work, daily life was already a balancing act trying to keep up with housework and childcare, so until I took leave there were few chances for the two of us to relax and chat over a meal. During my leave, however, my wife, children and I were able to engage in lots of idle chatter while eating lunch or planning what to eat for dinner, giving me a strong sense of how precious and important the family is. Another great thing is that it gave me time to think more deeply about my past, and my future with my family. As I considered the purpose of my work, I felt I was discovering a wider range of options for my future life. I am delighted that I have been able to experience things like this through my children.
Kitagawa: As we were expecting our first child, I valued our time together as a couple, while making preparations to heighten my feelings as a father. Once our child was born, however, I was totally unable to do anything father-like. I got very confused about dealing with a crying baby: Was the baby hungry? Did I need to change her diaper? It's obvious, but the baby and I are thinking of different things, so I have to observe the child carefully to understand her needs. Being involved in child rearing for a month, I gradually grew as a father, while at the same time becoming aware once again that thinking of others lies at the roots of communication.
Sato: My approach to work, particularly the way I use time, has changed since I took leave. Naturally, I've been striving to ensure there is no change in the quality of my work, but I have been prioritizing each task and working to raise my efficiency in order to return home as soon as I can on weekdays and thus increase the amount of time I spend with my children. Moreover, I have started to make use of telecommuting under Sony's Flexible Work Scheme. As I am working from home, there are occasions where I may annoy my colleagues because one of my children hits the keys on the keyboard, or makes noises that can be heard in the meeting room during online meetings. However, I have no hesitancy in using the scheme when necessary for family reasons.
Kusui: The way I use time has also changed, and not only has job satisfaction increased, but I have also become more aware of satisfaction with my life. From this perspective, I do not just go along with my child's enjoyment, but also value the fact that I also enjoy myself. When it comes to weekend leisure time, for example, we make a point of going to places where both my wife and I can also enjoy ourselves, not just our children. Leisure activities are not sustainable unless we parents enjoy ourselves, too. I believe it is important for us to show our children that we are also enjoying ourselves more as individual human beings than as parents. I do telecommute, but try to use online meetings no more than once or twice a month because the number of people involved sometimes makes it difficult to join in discussions. Looking ahead, I want to improve the way such meetings are organized so that I can make greater use of them.
Kitagawa: I reckon my attitude and approach to work have also changed since I returned to the office. To ensure I can get home earlier, I have tried hard to increase my efficiency and creativity by reviewing how I work. This way, I can improve the quality of my output in a shorter time without reducing the amount of work I get through. I am able to take paid leave in hourly units when our child is unwell or I suddenly have to go to the nursery school to pick her up, and it is extremely helpful that my workplace colleagues are very understanding, telling me to go at once. I use telecommuting as well. I can respond to urgent matters using my mobile phone, but working at home also has the advantage of enabling me to concentrate better on preparing materials and other deskwork.
Sato: I want to tell male colleagues who are thinking of taking childcare leave or vacations to talk very well with their partners, not just their bosses. Although partners seem to welcome it if their spouses take childcare leave or vacations, I believe they will also worry that it might cause inconvenience in the workplace and wonder what will happen about their income while they are on leave. When my wife worried about things like this, I explained Sony's childcare leave scheme, the situation in my workplace, how many other colleagues were taking leave, and how it would not pose any problems in terms of career or income. I think the best thing is to discuss things fully with your partner, and determine the optimal period for taking leave together with your family.
Kusui: Sato-san and I are both members of the DIVI@Sony* employee project for promoting diversity activities within Japan, and make the most of our own experiences in hosting seminars for fathers, which recommend that employees take childcare leave or vacations. We come across many male employees who are fretting over whether to take leave or not, and find that their biggest worry is their work. Of course, work is important, but their partners put their lives on the line when they give birth, and looking after the newborn child begins within 24 hours. I believe that making time to be involved at such challenging moments is surely a very important duty for anyone. Company organizations are there for employees to support each other, and if someone helps you, then it is enough for you help someone else in the future. I would like to see everyone make use of such schemes to support their lifetime families during the toughest times they will face.
Kitagawa: If I find someone who is agonizing over whether to take childcare leave, I tell them frankly that it is better to take it. My initial feeling was that since there was a childcare leave scheme for male employees, I might as well try it when our first child was born. Now, however, I am really thankful that I did try it. Babies grow remarkably quickly in the first month after they are born, and it was exciting to watch our child's expressions develop each day. You can only experience something like this if you take childcare leave for a certain length of time. I also feel that concentrating on child rearing even for a short period enabled me to grow both as a father and as a person. If I come across a male employee like myself, I will definitely recommend that he take childcare leave or vacation.