The naked engineer: Family fortunes

Posted on 31 May 2012

This month NE throws his toys out of the pram as parental leave commitments mount.

After knocking back an industrial quantity of painkillers to soothe the after-effects of a night out at Cavendish’s, the local watering hole, I successfully reduced my hangover level to merely monumental. Thus fortified and after battling with a singularly unruly shirt for symmetric buttoning, I made it into Hemlock Engineering head-office just in time for our 10.00am personnel review.

During the course of this pow-wow Dave the Donkey, operations & cock-ups director, proposed a new strategy to reduce sickness absence – fire anyone who takes two days sick a year (hangovers excluded). In my slightly hazy state I agreed that this was a perfectly reasonable approach – they’re here to work for crying out loud. I wasn’t sure we’d get it past the board, but it was worth a try.

Disappointingly, Janice from HR not only disagreed but had another bombshell to drop. Drawing the group’s attention to ‘Agenda point 4’ she revealed that apparently it is imperative we improve our child- and family-friendly policy due to forthcoming shared parental leave laws.

“What on earth are you talking about?” asked Dave – an unsurprising lack of understanding given that the only family policy Dave generally recognises is not talking to his wife unless absolutely essential.

“Parents will be able to swap up to six months parental leave between them,” Janice informed us with what seemed to me to be an unnecessarily smug level of superiority and patience for her pitifully uninformed colleagues (I nodded sagely, fearful of revealing myself to be very much at one with my force of flunkies on this matter.)

“And Dave”, Janice droned one, “we’ve already had an application from Grant Hathaway in your Structural Engineering group to swap six months of his barrister wife’s maternity leave, and your lead structures engineer Yolande Singh is also going off on maternity in two months.”

Dave is dumbfounded. “Both my senior engineers working on the Olympic BMX track in Stratford are going to bugger off for at least six months to sprog!” he spluttered. “Bloody hell! What are we supposed to do now? We’re just months from the opening ceremony and we still have critical FEA runs to do!”

“We could always swap maternity leave for a P45,” I suggested, not entirely helpfully and not entirely to the amusement of Janice. “Or introduce a policy that all employees of child bearing age should be homosexual,” I added brightly, only to be withered with a single look from our PC- conscious HR guru.

She had a better idea.

“Let’s get some contractors in.”

“Both my senior engineers working on the Olympic BMX track in Stratford are going to bugger off for at least six months to sprog!”

“But we’re running ANSYS 14 for God’s sake,” yelled Dave. “They’ll cost a bloody fortune!”

Leaving Jimmy the Greek, our chief bean counter, to get some more precise numbers on the contractors scenario, Dave and I slunk off to Cavendish’s for some hair of the dog treatment and a spot of lunch. The experience was somewhat marred halfway through the second Montrachet however, by a text update from Jimmy. “Agency providing two ANSYS contractors. Six month contract, £256,000 including fees,” it reported.

“Jesus Christ Almighty,” I blurted, knocking back the remaining plonk for fortification. “To keep the Olympic track on track is going to cost us an extra quarter of a mill!”

“Doesn’t look like boy wonder Cameron applied the law of unintended consequences to that one does it Dave?” I asked, somewhat rhetorically – though I suppose it will be comforting for the wife and kids to know that, in Cameron’s words, family is now “front and centre of our national life,” when the old Hemlock gig goes under due to being bled dry paying engineering job-nannies and I am with them 24/7. What a delightful prospect!