How to Inform Your Boss About Your Paternity Leave When Your Boss Sucks

It's a conversation that requires some tact.

by Chase Scheinbaum
Originally Published: 
A man walking with his son down a street while wearing a formal suit

Even if your company offers paternity leave (which would put you in the minority) and you’ve decided to actually take it (which would make you a bearded unicorn) that doesn’t mean that announcing it will always be as easy as shouting: “Stepping out for lunch, Dan! Want a turkey club?” Some bosses are not great people and they don’t care about such things as family life. And, in that case, asking for paternity leave will be a tense dance with your supervisor around what might seem like it should be a basic human right. It’s hard, but it’s also the truth. As such, it’s best to deploy some tact during the initial conversation. “Frame it as a win for your boss,” says Stewart D. Friedman, a business professor at Wharton, founding director of Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project, and host of the podcast ‘Work and Life’ “It’s a matter of engaging in a conversation about how do we make this work for all of us.”

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Parental and Paternity Leave

Get the Conversation Started ASAP

Typically, you wait until your wife is three months along before telling anyone. And right after you make phone calls to your college roommate and mother-in-law, you should tell your boss, says Friedman. “Once you’re public, why not get the process started?” he says.

Approach the Situation Gingerly

Yes, you’re having a child. And while this is an incredible, important, life-changing moment for you, it isn’t for your boss. “You cannot have a sense of entitlement about this,” Friedman says. “You’re not going in there and saying, Okay boss, here’s the deal.” Instead, Friedman insists you need to approach the situation with tact. “You’re a part of changing the culture,” he says. “You can be a part of that but nobody’s going to give you this for free.”

Find the Common Ground and Frame It As a Win For Your Boss

It may seem difficult but you do have things in common with your boss. Point them out with an eye to your mutual benefit, Friedman says. “The common interest is likely to be your continued contribution, productivity and growth as an asset to the business.” Finfd a way to express your commitment to making sure this works out for all affected parties — clients, customers, colleagues.

Offer to Check in While You’re on Leave

As a pre-emptive measure, you might want to offer to call your colleagues or clients every once in a while. No, it’s not ideal, but Friedman says it’s necessary for certain occupations. “If you’re in a role where being off the planet for eight weeks will cause havoc, you can — in a bounded way — do periodic check-ins,” says Friedman.

Frame It As a Means of Attracting and Retaining Talent

Aside from having more money than most nations on earth (so they can afford it), there’s a reason Silicon Valley companies are at the forefront on paternity leave: They care about attracting the best talent. It’s an ingenious strategy, and you can deftly suggest that your superiors try it, too, Friedman says. “It’s a strategic issue in terms of competing in the labor market and you’re contributing to that.” Explain that when you return to work, you can be an ambassador for how a father takes paternity leave in a way that works for everyone.

Let Them Consider What Would Happen If You Didn’t Take Leave

If you decided — or had no choice — to keep working after having a baby, you might well be a distracted, resentful mess. You can tactfully tell your boss that, Friedman says. Try something like: “If we don’t figure out a way for me to be available to my child at this crucial time in both our lives, it’s going to take a toll on my psychologically,” he says. “Without significant time to be with my newborn, there’s going to be strain that’s likely to affect my performance and sense of morale.” And then the upside: “When I return, I’ll be less distracted, I’ll feel better about my work and be more fully engaged so over the next year you’ll see a better performing asset.”

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