16 March 2022
My husband and I are talking about our options if we were to have a baby. We were thinking I would take my employer’s primary carer leave plus the government scheme, and we’d want him to also take a chunk after me so I could get back to work and he’d get time with the baby. My husband’s employer allows primary carers to take the standard 18 weeks of parental leave while secondary carers get two weeks. The industry is male-dominated, and men usually just take the two weeks. What’s your advice for him starting a conversation with his boss to push to be able to take 18 weeks, not two? And when should you start this conversation?
It’s great you are having this discussion now and that a centrepiece of that discussion is how you can both, equally, care for a new baby. Until we have more men taking time off after the birth of their children, the burden will continue to primarily rest with women. Your husband could start having the chat with his employer whenever he feels comfortable to do so, even if just to understand all his options. I thought I’d ask employment lawyer, Fay Calderone, who is partner at Hall & Wilcox, for some advice as well. She recommends you do a close read of your husband’s policy and check how much notice he needs to give when he wants to take leave. You should also check the time period he can take the leave (for example, does it have to be in the first year or can it be spread over two?) and check whether his primary carer leave entitlement is reduced by any secondary carer leave he takes while you are on leave too.
As you have implied, the cultural barriers may be the biggest issue. Any adverse effects he might experience from taking his leave entitlements would be a breach of the Fair Work Act but as you know, the insidious repercussions often lie beneath the surface. Your husband might want to try to talk to another man who has managed to successfully take the full leave entitlement (whether in the same business or even the same industry) and ask for advice on how to tackle this. Good luck!
About a year ago I started a role I really love. I have only ever worked with my team from home. It seems to work well; we have built good working relationships and we work the days and hours that suit us best. Unfortunately there is one member of the team that is underperforming and now my boss wants everyone back in the office. It feels like a knee-jerk reaction because my boss doesn’t know how to have difficult conversations. It is really disappointing and makes me think I will need to leave my dream job and find another one that allows for better flexibility. What do you suggest?
Your question raises a few issues. First, your boss needs to learn to have difficult performance conversations. Whether that underperformer is in the office or working remotely doesn’t remove the need for your boss to address the underperformance with the person directly. Second, simply demanding people return to the office is a sure-fire way to disengage large sections of the workforce. There needs to be open conversations about what the post-COVID way of working might look like for an employer to have any hope of retaining good people.
Third, you may need to compromise a little to stay in a job you love. You started your role during an extraordinary situation and now as we are coming out of the pandemic there will be an expectation from others that some things return to how they were. It sounds like there’s much you love about your role so you might also need to have a difficult conversation with your boss to share your concerns and ask what might be possible.
I read the opinion column you wrote last week about how smart bosses are listening to their employees on important social issues. At my work, we are all really focused on environmental sustainability and as a business, we say all the right things to talk up our green credentials. However, among our many clients we also have a number that are coal companies. It seems so hypocritical that my employer is happy to take their money on the one hand while trying to be credible in the environmental space on the other. My colleagues and I are struggling to remain quiet. Do you recommend we speak up?
I recommend you approach the conversation, initially at least, with a lens of curiosity. Go into it genuinely seeking to understand their perspective on why they feel it is appropriate to retain certain clients that may not meet the clearly stated environmental stance of the company. Express your concerns about the message it sends to retain these clients both internally and externally. There are plenty of examples where organisations have stopped or declined to work with businesses in the tobacco or gambling industries. There are also plenty of organisations electing not to invest in or fund coal companies. It sounds like your employer still needs to work out which side of the fence they are on.
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