Q: My first child is due in two months. My wife is taking nine months' maternity leave and I'd then like to take a year's sabbatical once she returns to work. How should I ask my manager for this? I feel as though I'm the odd one out as no other father at the firm (which is medium-sized) has asked for this before, and I'm terrified of losing my job (which I love and need) if I ask for this much time off. Why isn't it expected that fathers want to take time off too? How can I win my case?
A: The first thing you must do is stop believing that you have a case to win. You may have a moral case - and there are many who'd agree with you - but you certainly don't have a legal case. I'm no expert on paternity leave, but I suspect the most you're legally entitled to is a couple of weeks off soon after the birth - and probably not on full pay at that.
Just look at things from your management's point of view: the prospect of every male employee claiming a full year's sabbatical after every birth would be enough to make them adopt a recruitment policy restricted to men willing to sign a pledge of perpetual celibacy. (And that's probably illegal, too.)
Much your best bet is to open informal negotiations with your manager. Just as you hope they'll understand your own feelings, be sure you recognise the inevitable inconvenience for them. It may not seem fair, but your firm holds most of the cards. Your only real bargaining power is based on how you're rated; and you need to be very highly rated indeed for a medium-sized company to accommodate the sort of leave you're looking for.
I very much doubt if they'll grant you a full year's sabbatical (you weren't thinking of full pay, were you?), but if they respect your reasons and value your work, there's every chance of your negotiating quite enough time for you to be both a responsible employee and a responsible parent.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.