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Desperately Seeking Flexibility

Desperately Seeking Flexibility

By Jamie Woolf, May 2007

Though a growing number of companies acknowledge that work schedule flexibility is a cost-saving, “win-win” business strategy, many mothers lucky enough to work for these enlightened workplaces are likely to think twice before broaching the topic with their bosses. Why? While, your boss may give you the go-ahead to work part time, you know that there may be costs, for example, that promotion you wanted--not to mention a smaller paycheck.

Before knocking on your boss’ door to ask for a compressed work week or Fridays off, consider the following strategies to increase the likelihood that redesigning your schedule is a win for you and your employer:

1. Figure out what you really want. To work 30 hours? To be home each day by 3:00? What financial compromises can you make? Evaluate what would make the biggest difference in easing your stress and giving you the time you need.

2. Do your homework. Talk to other parents with flexible work arrangements. What can you learn from their experiences?

3. Anticipate obstacles. Think through how you’ll cover vacations, overtime, and crunch times. Provide details about how clients can contact you, even on the days you work at home. How will you cause the least disruption to your co-workers?

4. List your assets. Your case will be more convincing if you take stock of what you contribute, including years of service, unique skill set, and knowledge of the institution.

5. Propose a six-month trial period. Recommend that you reevaluate the arrangement so your boss doesn’t feel locked in.

6. Put your request in writing. Your proposal should include the following parts:

a. Specific details about the kind of work schedule you want and when you’d like to begin.

b. How you plan to deal with meetings on your off-days, crunch times, travel, client needs and perceptions.

c. How you plan to stay in touch with the office when you’re not physically on site.

d. Benefits to your employer; for example, retaining an experienced employee and avoiding recruitment and retraining costs, reducing benefit costs, and an enhanced reputation as a family-friendly employer. Remember that your boss wants to know how the work will get done, not how flextime will allow you to attend soccer games. Diplomatically point out that study after study shows that flexible work schedules positively influence productivity, absenteeism, and morale.

e. Specify which, if any, job duties you need to reassign.

Even when you plan well, your boss is likely to raise objections. Here are several typical reservations with suggested responses. Make a list of other objections you’re likely to hear and prepare a well thought-out response:

Boss: “I’m concerned that if I say yes to you, everyone else is going to want a flexible schedule.”

You: “Although others may like the idea, I believe that most people can’t afford the cut in pay or benefits.”

Boss: “How are you going to get your work done? You have a full load of high-priority projects.”

You: “We will need to reassign some of my work to existing staff. A couple people have indicated interest in helping with my current assignments.” Or…

You: “We will need to hire a part-time employee and I would help with their recruitment and training. I could begin my new work schedule after they are on board and trained. I believe that if I leave the agency, the recruiting and training costs to replace me will be greater than the costs of hiring a part-time position.”

Boss: “I’m fine with your proposal but I don’t think your clients or staff will be happy with this arrangement.”

You: “I will continue to check my e-mail and voice mail from home and respond to client requests within 24 hours, just as I have always done. I don’t think my clients will notice my change in schedule and I don’t think they need to know that there is any change. As for my employees, this will be no different than when I’m out on travel or at meetings. They will have access to me via e-mail and phone just as they do now.”

Boss: “What about travel? If you aren’t working full-time, how will you handle your travel?”

You: “I would need to travel less with this new schedule however I have a few staff members who have indicated interest in working more closely with our international clients. I’d like to give them this opportunity.” Or…

You: “With enough advance notice, I can still travel as I do currently.”

Boss: “I haven’t seen this work well in the past. I’m inclined to say no.”

You: “Are you willing to try this arrangement for three months and then reevaluate?” Or…

You: “I don’t feel I can continue my job with my current schedule. I know my skills and experience are invaluable, especially with the new project we just started. The recruitment and training costs to replace me will be costly. Are you willing to try this arrangement for three months and then reevaluate?”

Once you’ve made work work for you, you may run into a few snags along the way. For example:

1. You find yourself working the same number of hours, but now you’re getting paid less. Set limits and stick to them or reevaluate your agreement so you get paid for hours worked.

2. You get passed over for exciting projects or promotions. Communicate about desired assignments in the same direct way as you did to renegotiate your work schedule. Stay visible and express interest in assuming increased responsibility, even if your work week is reduced.

3. You miss meetings in which important information is shared. Greet flexibility with flexibility. Be strategic about which meetings you’re willing to come in for, even when you’re not scheduled to be at work. Ask others to share meeting notes or put you on speaker phone.

4. Your co-workers resent you. Or maybe you feel guilty when you leave at 3:00 and so you imagine antagonism. Either way, ask, “Is there anything you’d like me to do differently so that my new schedule creates the least disruption for the project we’re working on together?” Work together to offset challenges and generate collaborative solutions. Check in with co-workers periodically to keep communication open.

Jamie Woolf provides workshops and resources to parents through and is working on a book that links leadership to parenting.