The Big Showdown
Negotiating paternity leave can be scary & awkward. This is probably the biggest request you have made in your career to date and also the most important. Stop worrying! We can break it down into easily digestible pieces and with just a little bit of thought and practice you’ll get out not just unscathed, but maybe even better off.
We are going to cover:
- How to Kick Your Fear of Negotiation
- 10 Simple Rules of Negotiating Paternity Leave
- The Paternity Leave Pitch
- A Sample Script
- Responses to Common Questions
How to Kick Your Fear of Negotiation
One of the most common reasons people hate negotiating is because it makes them feel sleazy. Nobody wants to be the guy who is always haggling or trying to pull one over on somebody, right?
That may be true, but in business negotiating happens all the time. In fact managing a team is a constant process of negotiation and it’s not just over salaries. For example, your boss uses negotiating tactics to plan, delegate, and even pushback on deliverable deadlines. It is a business after all and personal interests constantly drive small negotiations. So if you are afraid to negotiate you can throw that concern right out the window. Turns out everybody, including your boss does it. Even though they might be a hardened negotiator, don’t worry, we will get you squared away.
The other big reason people hate negotiating is because they believe they aren’t any good at it. Like everything else, negotiating takes a bit of practice, but if you follow the process laid out below you can skate by without a scratch. The reason is simple – we are going to craft a negotiation specific to paternity leave which they almost certainly aren’t experienced with. We are also going to use some simple tactics to ensure that you have the ideal negotiation setting.
Remember, the worst they can say is no. The best they can say is ‘you have months of paid leave off with your family’.
What’s Working For You
You may not realize how much you have going for you in this paternity leave negotiation. Take a look at this list and relieve some of your anxiety:
- Parental leave is very common around the world – Out of 41 developed nations, the US is the only country which does not mandate paid parental leave. This is becoming a very well publicized fact and many companies and state governments are making adjustments.
- 31 of those 41 nations have paid leave laws specifically for paternity leave.
- The majority of people believe you should take it – 6 out of 7 American’s believe new Dad’s should get time off. The number jumps to 9 out of 10 when looking at people ages 18-50.
- Your expertise and experience keeps you safe and protected. You possess institutional knowledge which is not easily replaceable. Things like knowledge of the systems, practices and culture can take years for new employees to acquire.
- It is extremely costly in time, effort, and money to find and train a new employee.
- You know your work better than anyone, including your boss.
- Companies fear reputational damage for laying off or damaging the career of someone who prioritized family. In today’s politically correct society, there is a lot of fear and a lot of risk when confronting employees on progressive concepts & policies.
- Anne Hathaway said you can
You have more power than you think.
What’s Working Against You
So there are a ton of things going for you in your quest for paternity leave, but it isn’t 100% rosy. Take note of these aspects to better prepare for questions:
- It’s relatively new – Paternity leave is a minefield for employers. They might not be familiar with the laws and they may have already formed a stance with limited information.
- Legally they may not be required to give you time off or pay you during your leave.
- Pre-formed opinions – Some of your co-workers & maybe your boss already decided they don’t believe in paternity leave.
- Fear – They are concerned that you’re going to interview during your time off.
10 Rules to Negotiating Paternity Leave
- Read the Room – If the look on their face tells you now isn’t the time, don’t force it. Cut bait and try again later without tipping your hand.
- Avoid posing Yes/No decisions – Instead ask for open ended thoughts. This will allow you to pivot out of any bad turns and will avoid putting your boss on the defensive.
- End thoughts on a statement not a question – Make them do the hard work, following up your point with their assessment and proposal. It is much harder to say No to a question which is never directly asked. For example, “My family and I are strongly considering me staying at home for 4 weeks to help out“; rather than, “Can I take 4 weeks off for paternity leave?”
- Use an emotional appeal – These are humans after all. Nobody wants to be disliked.
- Practice your pitch – Your boss has negotiated before. It is almost a guarantee that they have both hired and fired people. You need to be ready… because they will be.
- Avoid answering questions about the leave itself – You don’t need to say what you will do while on leave; that’s not your job. You don’t have to justify your leave either. Think like a politician in a debate. Pivot and answer a different question. For example, if asked what you will do while on paternity leave simply say ‘You know, I just can’t imagine how difficult this must be for my wife, I am really excited about the opportunity to help out given everything she has done during the pregnancy.’ What kind of heartless bastard can deny you that? Which brings us to something very important…
- Smile – You must have a smile on your face and your body language should match it. This is an awesome event that is about to happen to you! If you aren’t even excited about it, then why should someone else help you out? Be pumped! Be excited! If you go in there with a sour face, they might even think they are doing you a favor by NOT giving it to you. You need to be genuinely excited about it. It’s awesome man! When you smile, others mirror it, putting them in a better mood without even realizing it.
- Build a Puppy – Your boss isn’t evil and even if they do evil things, it’s probably just because they are stressed out. At the end of the day nobody wants to steal a puppy out of a joyful kid’s hands. So you are going to build yourself one hell of a puppy! In this case, your puppy is the narrative that you are building in your boss’s head. This will include your desire to start off on the right foot as a Dad, take care of your wife or gf, and be the family man everybody wants to be. Nobody wants to be a villain and I guarantee your boss doesn’t want to crush your dream of being a true family man. They didn’t get to the corner office by thinking ‘when I’m the boss I’ll ruin peoples lives!’ No, they got there by thinking ‘when I am in charge I’ll do things different, I’ll do things the right way’. So build that puppy!
- Alleviate fears before they ask – Identifying and addressing your boss’s fears shows that you care about the people around you and that you really have thought this thing through. Some potential fears to consider are:
- You will leave or shop around for a better job while out on leave – Head this one off by saying that you have no intention of using the time to make a career change and you are counting on returning to this job to continue your hard work and provide for the new addition.
- You do a lot of things which still need to get done and somebody has to do them – Remember that list you made? Time to put it to use.
- How can they get in touch with you if they need you – Address this fear by saying, ‘we can discuss how to get in touch with me later on; first I wanted to get you on board with my plan’. If you are forced to give a full response, commit to something light that you can add to later. Do not overcommit because it is harder to walk back from a high expectation and do not commit to being in touch through email. Limiting availability to the phone is a much larger barrier to contact. By agreeing to phone calls only, you are still readily available, but the situation has to actually warrant the time it takes to contact you. Most of their problems won’t warrant this amount of effort. To sell the ‘phone only’ approach say ‘the phone is by far the most efficient way for me to explain my work without things being lost in translation’.
- Order Matters – ‘Walk’ your boss through the different components in this exact order:
- Get excited and gain agreement on paternity leave as a concept
- Propose co-worker coverage & automation plan
- Gain agreement on how they can get in touch with you
- Gain agreement on the amount of time you are taking
- Discuss compensation during leave
The Paternity Leave Pitch
At a minimum, 2 months prior to leave. Ideally more like 4-6 months prior to leave. This allows for more time to transition responsibilities and prepare everyone for your time off.
We want your boss is in a good mood and will be feeling generous, so shoot for Friday, early afternoon. Also, whenever possible, set up the first meeting right on the heels of delivering a strong result. Timing doesn’t always work out, but if you can piggyback a day or two after a big win it can make for an easier discussion.
Your boss’s office or behind a closed door. Nobody else should be privileged to this information and the discussion should remain confidential. If you work for a large company with an HR department, they may need to be involved in the initial discussion. Check HR resources first.
How to initiate
This is not a ‘hey, by the way conversation.’ This is tactical! So don’t just mention it in passing. Schedule time on your boss’s calendar, but don’t indicate the purpose unless asked. Instead leave it general like ‘quick touchbase’.
We aren’t doing this to ambush your boss, but you don’t want to give them advanced time to prepare either. Set your own stage and keep control of the situation. You choose the playing field because you want to be in control and create your own narrative before they can form one on their own. Stick to 15-30 minutes to keep the discussion quick and on topic. Depending on your boss, you may choose to warm up with small talk or get right into it. If your boss is busy, offer to come back at another time.
Starting the Pitch
When starting your pitch, begin by stating the amount of time you have been there. If you have been with the company for a while it highlights the fact that you have a strong relationship as well as institutional knowledge. This is knowledge that takes a long time to learn and that they can’t necessarily just teach someone. It is knowledge that you gain from being in the job and actually troubleshooting issues, getting reps in. This is the biggest reason they want to keep you happy, so lead with it.
Beginning with this statement also serves to put your boss on their back heel. Addressing your time with the company is a standard statement typically made when resigning from a position. If your manager initially thinks you might be resigning and you follow up with a request for ONLY a few weeks of leave, it will seem like a great deal for them. This isn’t sleazy, its smart!
Key Pitch Touchpoint
Next, be upfront in stating that you want to be able to relax, you don’t WANT to have to look for a job while you are on leave. This accomplishes two things:
- It demonstrates that you are serious about taking it and plan to do so with or without their ‘approval’.
- It demonstrates that you know you have the option of leaving. One of the biggest fears employers have when someone goes out on paternity leave is that they will interview. This comes from two flawed assumptions:
- That you have time to look for a job and interview (you won’t if you do it right)
- That you are looking to get out
If you alleviate the concerns around these two assumptions, you have eliminated some of your boss’s biggest fears and likely one of the reasons he/she might not want you to take leave in the first place. Negotiating paternity leave really does hinge around solving your bosses potential problems upfront.
What to Say
“For me to really be there for my family, I need to reduce the stress about my job disappearing while I am on leave. I want you to know that I have no intention of looking for another job or a back-up plan while I am out, as long as I can expect to come back as scheduled. My goal is to dive right back in where I left off, with even more focus because I will be working to provide for them.”
Yeah its a bit wordy but you get the point.
Remember that for paternity leave you can negotiate almost anything. Don’t ask ‘do we have a paternity leave policy?’ or ‘Has anyone else taken this? Or ‘Is this an option?’. Instead say
‘I want to talk to you about my time off of work when the baby comes. What do you feel is an appropriate balance?’
This accomplishes two things…
- You are informing them you are taking time off, not asking. You have told them they are saying yes to a paternity leave and you are allowing them to give input as to what they think is appropriate.
- You are putting the pressure on them to respond and have input in the process. This is no longer a yes / no decision. A yes / no question can be answered without thought. When you leave these questions open ended there is a lot more wiggle room. You have also forced your boss to create a timeline. That may or may not be how long you were planning to take but your bosses hand is played. You have forced the first move and can respond in turn.
At the end, make sure your boss knows that what was said is confidential between you both or with HR if applicable. The details should be private and any breach of that agreement can only give you more leverage and work in your favor.
Sample First Meeting Script
Begin with small talk or your standard intro. In other words, butter them up a bit.
You: “So as you know I have been with the company for x years and I really enjoy working here.“ (Establish that there is a really good relationship)
Boss: “Please tell me you aren’t quitting right now.”
You: “No, I’m not quitting, but as you know I am about to become a dad. It is really important to me to be there for my family and I plan to take some time off to take care of them until we adjust.” (Avoid using the term paternity leave initially)
Boss: “Whew, I thought you were quitting for a second. Well look, most guys don’t take a paternity leave here. I was back in two days after my kids were born and Bob in accounting only took 3 vacation days last year for his kid.”
You: “Yeah I know and I’m aware that was the standard back when you took it. That must have been really challenging for your family. That being said, I really do want to talk through what makes sense for everyone. I want to be there for my family 100% during this time because it is so important, but ideally I want to go through it without having to worry about looking for a job.”
Boss: “Well, what would you do without pay?”
You: “We can figure pay out later. Right now I just want to share my plan with you so that nothing falls through the cracks. I went ahead and laid out a list of all my responsibilities and how I think they can be accomplished while I am out. Since we still have 10 minutes or so, I’d like to share my thoughts with you and get your opinion on what an appropriate balance would look like.”
At this point walk through the list and your plan. Force your boss to explain to you why you can’t take that much leave. Whenever possible explain why you CAN using your pre-drawn plan.
Note: If your boss isn’t accepting the concept at all it’s time to drop the FMLA bomb. Ultimately you do have a legal right to take paternity leave assuming your company is of an appropriate size.
Responses to Common Questions & Topics
If during your paternity leave negotiation your boss brings up pay, dodge the question by saying
“yeah I’m not overly concerned about that (even if you are). We can discuss that later.”
This keeps the ball in your court. Getting your boss to agree to a timeframe is far more difficult than a full or adjusted pay conversation because it is more open ended. Keep the progression logical and don’t dig yourself a hole, there is absolutely no benefit to discussing pay until after you know you are taking leave.
While it may sound counter intuitive, pay is best left until a second or third conversation. Giving your boss some time to stew on it and to fully accept how serious you are about taking leave helps in the pay discussion. Remember that losing you is far from ideal for them and some light suggestions about moving on to a company with better balance goes a long way.
When it does come up, phrase it this way:
“So that is my plan and I am glad we can agree on timeline. I know full pay doesn’t match what is typically done at this company but what can you do for me?”
Think about how much it took to acquire you and get you productive. To run an ad, sort through resumes, bring you in, interview you, etc. Time is money and no employer wants to go through that whole process just to get an unknown new employee, a wildcard. They know what they have with you. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush. You have a lot, A LOT, more leverage than you think and than they want you to know.
If your boss tries to give you an ultimatum, switch it back around with this zinger:
“I’d hate to have to move on to (insert competitor), especially for something as short as a few weeks off with my family. We both know this is a once or twice in a career deal. I have no interest in starting over with a new company, especially because I genuinely like working here with all of you.”
Yeah its gonna take some balls, but it’s your life! Who else is going to stand up for you if you never stand up for yourself. Own the s#*! out of it.
If your boss says: ‘I can’t guarantee your spot when you get back’, simply say:
“So I take it I should cover my bases and try to line something else up? I don’t plan to look for a new job while on leave, but I certainly could if that’s the case. With the new addition I have even more responsibility to my family, so I don’t want there to be a long gap between jobs.”
Also keep FMLA in mind. Your boss may actually be in violation by even telling you they can’t guarantee you a role. Use it to your advantage.
The gender of your boss is no indication of their responsiveness to your paternity leave request. The common misconception is that female bosses will be more likely to support you. This is not always the case.
With today’s generally accepted lies about how ‘winning takes sacrifice‘ and ‘we all have to push through it‘, gender is no indication they will be likely to give you the green light. The approach above is totally gender neutral. Focus on making their job easier and it will increase your odds of success without drawbacks.
There you have it, a guide to negotiating paternity leave. Everything above is 100% yours for free. Use it. If you are interested in a script on the money conversation let me know. I also have something in the works on how to use your return to work to negotiate a higher salary and other perks like leaving early once you get back. If you want the quick hits from that shoot me an email.