We hear all the time that you can and should negotiate your salary. And while that’s true, the same goes for other benefits, like negotiating maternity leave.
I’ve spent years studying and interviewing women to hear their experiences and learn the best negotiation tactics. Nearly every negotiation story I’ve heard revolves around salary. It wasn’t until I became pregnant did I fully understand that salary was just the start of what you can negotiate. Not only is it possible to negotiate maternity leave, it’s important to leverage the right negotiation tactics to create the best situation for both you and your employer.
The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have a national policy regarding paid parental leave, which means parents are often left to piece together a plan for how to make the transition work for them. Even if your company does offer leave benefits, they might not be right for your situation. That’s when negotiation comes into play.
Negotiating leave isn’t just a good idea for mothers. My husband is also leveraging these tactics to make sure he’s able to get the right amount of parental leave to support our new family.
Here are 7 tips to help you get started crafting a plan to negotiate your leave:
1. Read the Official Policies
Your first place to look is going to be your company policies. It’s great to know what’s officially allowed, but remember that these official policies are just a starting point for your negotiation. They are rarely set in stone. Understanding what’s standard policy before jumping into modifications you’d like to make will make the conversation flow that much more smoothly.
2. Do Your Research
Once you’ve gotten a handle on what the official policies are, it’s time to look at what else is available to you. There are three places you’ll want to focus your research: the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), state and local policies, and unofficial company policies.
This provides that qualifying employers guarantee certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year. Take some time to understand if you qualify for this leave and what your rights are.
State and local policies
Your state or city might have policies that will provide additional support once your baby arrives. For example, California mandates that workers receive 6 weeks of parental leave at 55% of their pay. San Francisco has more stringent policies that require employees receive 6 weeks of parental leave at 100% of their pay. Make sure you know exactly what your state and local policies provide for.
Like I’ve mentioned, the official policies are just a starting point. You likely have co-workers who have negotiated alternative arrangements outside of what’s listed in the official policies. Ask around and do some digging to figure out what other benefits have been offered. These unofficial policies will help you to get a reading on what your employer might be open to as well as some ideas for what you might be interested in asking for.
3. Define What You Need
Thinking about what exactly you’ll need to be at your best after your baby arrives is incredibly difficult. How are you supposed to know what life will be like?
While there’s no way to really know exactly how you’ll feel once the baby arrives, spend some time thinking about logistics now. If you know that there is no way you can take unpaid leave but you’re worried about a transition back to the office too quickly, that might mean that you need to ask for a gradual schedule to help you return to work. Or perhaps you do some research and find that the childcare that you really want can’t take your new little baby until four weeks after you’re due to return to work. You might want to ask for an extended period off to make the transition easier.
There’s no way that you’ll know exactly what you need, but take some time to think about different scenarios. What you want may change once the baby arrives, but at least you have a leg up by thinking through some options and being clear with your employer about what definitely won’t work for you.
4. Anticipate Your Employer’s Concerns
One crucial element of any negotiation is to understand what the other person is concerned with and what they need. Once you know this, you can create a plan that preemptively addresses all of their objections and makes the conversation go much smoother.
Put yourself in your manager’s shoes: what are they going to be most worried about? They may be worried that you don’t plan to return to work. Or they might be stressed about managing the extra workload without you around. Once you pinpoint some specific things they’re likely to be concerned about the most, you can craft a winning plan.
5. Create Your Ideal Plan
Now that you have defined what you need and what your manager’s concerns are, you are in a great place to craft your ideal plan. Your plan should first include a transition plan for your workload as well as address their concerns. Some things you might want to include are:
- The dates you plan to leave and return
- Big milestones you’ll achieve before you leave
- A transition plan for remaining milestones and responsibilities
- How you plan to transition back to work
Once you have the main elements in place, you can include the things that you’re asking for, to make the leave and transition easier. Remember, you may be asking for additional items which will directly benefit you and your new baby, but having this adequate support will also benefit your manager and your company.
For example, if you’re asking for an additional four weeks beyond what the maternity leave policy provides for, focus the ask on how you can make this minimally disruptive to your team and how it will benefit the group in the long run. Perhaps taking the extra four weeks means you’ll have childcare completely in place when you come back to work, so you can hit the ground running. You would highlight that as well as how you plan to have any work for those four weeks covered.
6. Practice Your Negotiation
One of the best tips to ease any nerves before your negotiation is to practice what you’re going to say. Recruit a friend to help play the part of your manager and role-play the scenario. Prep your friend with what you anticipate your manager’s concerns or objections to be to help the conversation play out. Once you role-play, ask them for feedback as to how clearly you laid out your plan and your ask, as well as what feedback they have to make your communication even stronger.
It may feel silly to practice this but you’ll be able to be much more confident in the moment with this preparation.
7. Come Up with Alternatives
Your employer may not agree to what you’re asking for, and that’s okay. Rather than being discouraged, get an understanding of their viewpoint and come with alternatives that you can offer.
For example, if you asked for additional time off and your manager doesn’t approve, first ask why to get to the root of the issue. Maybe they know that a big project is coming up and they need you back in place to help it run smoothly. Once you know that, you could potentially offer to come back part time to only work on that project for the first month. Or, you could work out a solution where you support the team while working from home.
The important thing is to try to understand what is driving their answer so you can begin to collaboratively brainstorm solutions with them.