Upfront and Honest About Parental Leave

Talking to your line manager about parental leave can be daunting, more so if they're unfamiliar with what's involved. Leadership and Transition coach Ben offers advice on the best way to approach it.

Talking about your upcoming leave makes the whole situation more approachable.

There's little doubt that talking with your line manager about your new role as a parent, and the effect that may have on work, can be quite daunting, particularly if your manager isn't a parent or unfamiliar with what is involved.

For some it may even be tempting to ignore the issue but make it appear that you're just as present and available as ever. How often do we not say something for fear of being rejected or not heard? Let's be honest, we've all had times when ignoring a situation has caused more problems than it's solved.

While it may seem daunting to have that conversation now, ask yourself, what would happen if you needed emergency time off work? Or, what if you need to leave early, or come in late? Doctor's appointments? What procedures are in place if child care fails? It's reasonable to think that in the future there will need to be some flexibility at work so that you can manage your responsibilities at home.

If you're the kind of person who wants to be ahead of the problem before it happens, and have solutions in place for when the need arrives, then you'll want answers to these questions.

So how do you approach that opening conversation? Having worked with a number of clients struggling with this very same issue, one of the first steps is to gain clarity of what you want. 

There's no time like the present. Write down your ideal work-life picture.

This doesn't have to be perfect, don't worry if even some of it seems unrealistic. This is just to get clarity on what's important to you. Write positively. If this is tricky then write what you don't want to have happen.

Sometimes it can be easier to write in terms of what you don't want - that's fine, the purpose is to get it out of your head. How else can you communicate until you get clarity on your outcome?

With that list, work out your 'musts'

Highlight what items are the most important to you. Then identify which ones are negotiable. You're now beginning to outline your discussion points.

One client, in particular, found this a very useful exercise. Her company had gone through some rapid expansion which had changed her role, at the same time she'd become a mother for the first time. Her return to work left her feeling unsure of her position in the company as departments and teams continued to change. With no policy or procedure for parents, she'd grown increasingly unhappy at work and felt that leaving was the only choice.

Through our work together, it became clear that the company director was equally unsure how to support her return to work and define her role. We made it her task to define what working arrangement she would like, giving her a handle on what specifically she wanted to achieve. With this list, we worked on what solutions could be discussed linking the solutions to real benefits for the business.

Better communication begins with getting more clarity on what you want to achieve. Once you know what you want, and what you're willing to negotiate, you'll be more effective in communicating with your line manager, and your partner. Presenting solutions to these outcomes simplifies the decision further, and by tying in the business case, puts you in an improved position to achieve a result that works for everyone.

For that client, she presented her proposal to the company director who agreed to all of her points, even ones that she felt he wouldn't have agreed to. She has since been promoted and is no longer thinking about leaving, happy that she has the right balance of work and life - all through clear, honest and better communication.


Ben, Leadership and Transition Coach