How to Negotiate the Best Parental Leave and Perks at Work


Do you know what kid-friendly benefits you’re owed at work? (Photo: Corbis)

Typical company perks used to include onsite yoga classes and free cafeteria food. These days, employers are upping the ante by offering some very family-friendly benefits. Recently, global consulting firm Accenture (whose employees often have to travel) announced a policy that allows new parents to work locally for the first year after returning from leave. The company also lets employees who nurse beyond the first year to ship pumped breast milk home for free when traveling for work.

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But Accenture is only the latest firm to make life easier on parents and those who would like to be. Apple and Facebook pay for women to freeze their eggs. Netflix offers male and female workers unlimited paid family leave during the first year of their child’s life. And Vodafone pays moms a full-time salary for part-time work during the first six months of parenthood.

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But what if you don’t work for a company that embraces the realities of working parents? Here’s how to successfully negotiate for family-oriented benefits and perks.

Determine what you need.

Do you want flexible work hours? The freedom to work from home? A lengthy maternity or paternity leave? Determining what is right for your family — aside from what your employer might want — is key. “Women in particular are socialized to respond to team needs and put their own needs last,” Lelia Gowland, a national consultant who coaches women in workplace negotiation, tells Yahoo Parenting. “And new fathers may feel hesitant to ask for paternity benefits if their workplace has not previously addressed this need.” By mapping out a plan, “You’ll bring that [confidence] into the room and be a stronger negotiator,” she said.

Understand what you’re owed.

“Eligible employees have a federal right to unpaid leave with job guarantee upon return,” Carol Sladek, partner and work-life consulting lead at Aon Hewitt, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Additionally, several states have more generous policies [than others]. These laws are huge because they mean you cannot be let go because you stay home for several weeks to bond with your child.” To determine your eligibility, check out the Family and Medical Leave Act and your state family and medical leave laws. Also, review your company policies for new parents. (Can you use paid sick leave instead of unpaid FMLA leave or short-term disability to extend maternity leave? Are there any new parent incentives in place to support childcare?)

Negotiate with the right people.

“Before you talk to anyone, learn who has the power to make a decision,” Calum Coburn, SVP at The Negotiation Experts, a consulting firm, tells Yahoo Parenting. A manager might not approve a new father’s request to work from home two days a week but the HR department might if there’s a formal paternity leave policy in place.

Present a plan, not a problem.

You want your family to have the support it needs. Your boss wants the company to have the support it needs. No matter what perks you seek, “positioning your request in a way that addresses how work will get done strengthens your negotiation,” says Gowland. “You’ll walk in with a starting point for solutions instead of problems you want your manager to solve.”

Bonnie Scherry, corporate HR director at G&A Partners, agrees. “Offer to cross-train another employee for specific tasks,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Or consider what you could do from home with a laptop, or outside traditional office hours.”

Emphasize your intention to return to work.

“Employees consistently underestimate the importance of letting supervisors know that their intention is to return,” says Gowland. “But the cultural perception is that you won’t come back if you have a child.” And sharing that commitment to coworkers is important, especially if they’re handling your workload in your absence. “Set expectations by saying something like, ‘I’ll be back in six weeks, work in the office Thursdays, and available by phone, email, and text in between,’” suggests Gowland, who adds that clear communication can stave off potential negative feedback.

Reconsider your options.

What if your company refuses to provide any family support? You might consider hiring a negotiation expert, a trained professional who can help you navigate sticky employment situations. Many offer one-on-one sessions to help clients resolve specific problems, or offer negotiating training sessions.

Another option is to start job hunting and use another offer as leverage with your current employer. You may not want to leave your job — but remember, your company probably doesn’t want you to leave either, having invested time, money, and training in you.

“Be prepared to interview even if you aren’t planning to leave,” says Coburn. “Too often, we assume the jobs we are in are the only ones, the best ones. Find out what your options are. This allows you to go back to your employer and say, ‘I am happy, but I have a conflict and I need your assistance. Here are the options I have.’ Your company will take it more seriously if they realize family support is a make-or-break issue for you.”

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