Not long after the birth of my second child, I realized that the mixture of a challenging career and parenting was tougher than I had imagined. My roles as superemployee and supermom were about to collide.
I didn’t want to miss the baby years, but our household relied on my paycheck. My solution was to seek a reduced work schedule. I needed to convince my boss, Melanie, that my job could be effectively accomplished in fewer hours.
Luckily, I had a good track record and a forward-thinking boss who focused on performance and results. I knew I had a shot at being awarded a flexible schedule. I just needed to present the circumstances in a positive way.
If the advantages of a flexible work schedule appeal to you, but you’re not sure how to get the ball rolling, consider these ideas.
What is Flextime
Many companies offer a flexible work schedule that allows an employee to select the hours she will work. There are usually specified limits set by the employer, such as four 10-hour days, rather than five 8-hour days. Those who work a five-day week may work hours other than the typical “9 to 5.”
While such schedules are considered flextime, you might want to go beyond your company’s usual practices by reducing your hours or proposing an unconventional schedule. In my case, I wanted to reduce my hours, enabling me to leave around 3pm each day. My proposal included the agreement that I would be in the office for core hours so that I was available for meetings or if co-workers needed me. I also agreed to be available after 3pm if needed.
Is Your Job Flextime-Friendly?
“Make an honest assessment about whether the job is really a position that can tolerate flextime,” says Barry Lawrence a career expert for the website Jobfox.com. “Some jobs, frankly, just aren’t very work-life friendly. My wife, Heather, was a full-time marketer at a large company. We have twin daughters who are 7. She decided that she would feel better about her professional contributions as a consultant rather than a full-time employee. This gives her the freedom to work more flexible hours without being seen as an ‘undedicated’ full-time worker.”
Propose a Plan
Christine Benton, a mother of two and manager of a public relations agency, sought a 24-hour work week. “I was prepared to show how my job could be performed without negatively impacting our clients,” says Benton, whose new schedule runs Monday-Wednesday. “Working three days in a row allows for continuity and that was an important element to offer in my negotiation,” she says.
It’s important to take some time to formulate your proposal, but the results will be worth your effort. “Your plan should reflect a respect for both sides and still leave room for tweaking,” says Benton. “In my case, my weekend starts on Thursday. I feel more balanced. I’m able to have time for my career, my family and even find some time left over for me.”
What’s In It for the Company
To motivate an employer to grant you flextime, the company should benefit as well. “Lead with what your employer wants first,” says Julie Moore Rapacki, president of the career counseling firm Polish Your Star. “Make sure you understand the results the business is trying to achieve and how you contribute.”
“An obvious benefit to an employer is the ability to attract, motivate and retain quality employees,” says Rapacki. To keep employees who seek a work-life balance, it’s in the company’s best interests to allow flexible schedules. “Be prepared to remind your boss, in detail, of the value you bring to the business and what your ideal schedule would be,” she adds. “Make it a dialogue about how both needs, the business’s and yours, can be met.”
If you are seeking reduced work hours and an equivalent reduction in pay, another obvious benefit to the employer is the money it will save. Be careful, however, not to jeopardize your health coverage if your family depends on it.
In my proposal to my boss, Melanie, I suggested a three-month trial period for both of us to assess the impact of the change. This gave us a way out if the new work arrangement didn’t meet the company’s needs or my expectations.
Putting together a plan that was quantifiable, reasonable and realistic was rewarded when Melanie said that we’d give it a try. I could begin the alternate work schedule at the beginning of the month. When we met three months later, we decided to continue the arrangement.
Here are other ideas you can bring to the table when you discuss your proposal.
- Offer to take work-related calls on your cell phone during the traditional workday.
- Offer to attend important meetings, even if they are during your non-work time.
- If you’re not reducing your hours or responsibilities, but just changing your schedule or proposing that you do some work at home, don’t accept a pay cut. If your employer suggests one, offer a three-month period to evaluate the new arrangement and the results you’re achieving. Chances are that you will be even more productive.
- Don’t have an all-or-nothing attitude about your proposal. Be willing to meet your employer halfway.
Balancing work and home life is no easy task. But with a bit of flexibility, an insightful employer and a committed employee, it can be accomplished.
Claire Yezbak Fadden is a freelance writer.