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Interview with Torsten Aha: from parental leave to head of human resources in Traunreut

Interview with Torsten Aha: from parental leave to head of human resources in Traunreut

Reading time for this article: 6 minutes

Parental leave as a career downer? Not at BSH! Read Torsten's exciting story and his advice on parental leave in this interview…

Our working world is currently changing faster and to a greater degree than perhaps ever before. The compatibility of family and career is increasingly important for many employees. This is also true for Torsten Aha, head of human resources at our Traunreut site in Germany. He decided to take a six-month parental leave for exactly this reason.

Shortly after his return, he was promoted to head of human resources.

An exciting story!

Torsten, why did you decide to take a longer parental leave than many of your male colleagues?

It was important to my wife and me. We planned to distribute the parental leave on both shoulders. We both wanted to combine the happiness of having a child and professional challenges in the best way possible.

Before your parental leave you were a group leader in the HR team. What was the reaction of your team and your manager?

Before this decision in my family we naturally asked ourselves: "How do we split the parental leave?” And as an expectant father, I asked myself: "Should I take paternity leave for this long or not?” Fortunately, however, both my manager and my team approved of my decision.

Thanks to the great cohesion in our team and the positive reactions, I was able to go on parental leave without hesitation. Nevertheless, it was important to me to signal to everyone that "I may not be in the office every day anymore but I'm here for you and you can reach me if you have important issues and questions". I didn't want to let the contact break off for half a year. And I wanted to support the team on important topics wherever possible. After all, you want to work well and successfully in the team again after your return.

In the end, I have to say, my parental leave was a great team effort, and I am still very grateful for it.

You were promoted to head of human resources not long after your return. What was your "secret recipe" for making your return from parental leave so smooth – and successful?

I kept in touch with the team over the six months – even privately. This certainly made it easier for me to return to work. Good planning is also important. There were rules for substitutes. We clearly defined in advance which topics my colleagues could take over during my absence and which ones I could simply pick up again after my return. You see, half a year is still manageable, and it passes quickly.

But I also had a lot of luck. When I took parental leave, the general conditions were just right. And I never really worried about my career development. The desire to be with my family always comes first for me.

I also never had the thought: "If I do this now, it will hinder my career". I was more concerned about the additional burden on the team while I was gone.

So you never had the feeling that this decision could, so to speak, be an obstacle in your career planning?

When you come back after parental leave, after two weeks everyone has forgotten that you were gone at all (laughs). That was not an issue in any of the conversations about the position I hold now. From my point of view, this is something that distinguishes BSH. Obviously, in the past, however, things might have been different.

You certainly have a lot of responsibility in your new job. How do you make sure that the balance between family and work is still right?

I admit it's challenging. For example, I try to pay more attention to working hours – even in my position – in order to be a role model of sorts. But even now, after parental leave, it is still important to me to take my daughter to kindergarten or pick her up again regularly. I want to set a positive example for my colleagues. But if I'm honest, sometimes that means opening the laptop again in the evening. 

In the beginning, it took me a lot of effort to adapt my working hours flexibly to my needs as a father. But that is also due to my function and personal attitude.

In the past, there was simply this understanding: "The HR manager is the first person in the office in the morning and the last to leave in the evening.” Fortunately, that's in the past, but I still sometimes find myself falling back into this pattern of thinking. But now I have overcome that.

Of course, it also helps that I've been in my new role a bit longer and have settled in well. But of course, from time to time there are twinges of remorse. In both directions.

Have you noticed that your handling of the topic has a positive effect on your team?

I notice that what I try to exemplify influences my colleagues, as well. I think it is perceived positively that I aspire to fulfil my role as a family man well – and combine it with a demanding job. 

Topics such as "new work" or "work-life balance" have been on everyone's lips for quite some time. Do you notice in your job that these topics are becoming increasingly important – both for new and existing employees?

It is definitely the case that mobile working in particular creates much more freedom and also removes many hurdles. It has become much easier to take your child to daycare in the morning and pick him or her up again later. Of course, this also blurs the line between private and professional life, but it gives me much more mobility. 

I like to work in home office from time to time, since almost every appointment is now a virtual appointment anyway. For my team and me, the developments in remote working are a real benefit and they work very well. Often, however, it is important to be present in the office. It's the mix that functions best.

Could you summarize BSH's attitude to this new working environment for us?

I experience BSH's attitude here as very positive. I've worked at this company for 21 years now and have to say that in the past, an employee's presence in the office counted much more. Today, the focus is on results. And this gives everyone much more freedom. 

But of course, the pendulum must not swing too far. In our new working world, you quickly become omnipresent and then perhaps you don't draw the line so easily when you're on vacation. I have to keep working on this myself, as an example for my team. 

But in summary, I think that we are currently handling these new degrees of freedom very well in the company.

In your opinion, does it make a difference whether you take this step from a management position or not? 

Yes and no. I wouldn't say that your position influences how easy or not it is to take a long period of parental leave. It depends more on the general framework conditions. How well is the team positioned at the given moment? Are you yourself perhaps still new in the role? Can you arrange a good substitute?

Taking parental leave was a great decision for me, and I most certainly would make the same decision considering my situation at that time. But now I'm still so new in my role that it would definitely be less appropriate.

However, I'm sure that with good planning, one can take time off from work, even if the general conditions are not so ideal for someone. 

What would you advise your colleagues who are also thinking about a longer parental leave?

I would highly recommend it because you get a lot from it personally. And it can also have a very positive effect on your career because you get a completely different perspective on issues such as the compatibility of family and career, which many employees deal with on a daily basis. 

I would also recommend that you don't shut yourself off completely if possible, and that you keep in touch with the team when there are urgent matters, also privately. Maintaining a balance is very important. 

And my main tip: Don't think about career development. In my opinion, BSH has now reached the point where this topic is no longer a career blocker.

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BSH Hausgeräte GmbH, with a total turnover of some EUR 15.6 billion and 62,000 employees in 2022, is a global leader in the home appliance industry. The company’s brand portfolio includes eleven well-known appliance brands like Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau and Neff as well as the ecosystem brand Home Connect and service brands like Kitchen Stories. BSH produces at 40 factories and is represented in some 50 countries. BSH is a Bosch Group company.