Moms and flexible work: How to negotiate a winning work schedule
If you’re like most working parents today, you’re running like a madwoman on the family/job treadmill, scrambling to spend quality time with your kids while trying to give your employer the work performance they demand. Flex time or telecommuting from home has for a least a decade been an attractive and realistic option for many parents and their employers. Keep reading to learn more.
Let's face it: Many modern working moms want and deserve it all, but we are coming to realize the 1980s Superwoman ideal is just a big fat myth. No one can easily be in two places at once and give their physical, intellectual or emotional best given the demands of parenting and of most professions.
Flexibility is in
Now might be the ideal time to present your employer with some creative options as companies are trying to find ways to work smarter, not harder, in this tough economy.
Creating a flexible work schedule, at least in some professions, can offer the best of both worlds and create new efficiencies for your employer. While not all careers can withstand the interruptions of a screaming toddler or cranky baby as you try to run a complex spreadsheet or Power Point presentation, there are plenty of positions that can allow you to complete projects, presentations or sales calls between naps, at night or during weekends.
Creating job-family balance is possible, however, if you partner with your employer on the following:
- Convince her of the feasibility and tangible and intangible value of allowing you to create a flexible work schedule that keeps you happy and your job well-executed.
- Make regular adjustments in your arrangement that continues the win-win schedule for both of you.
Here are four tips to help you negotiate a winning flexible schedule with your employer:
Prioritize Your Short- and Long-Term Goals
Ask your employer if she's open to the idea. Be bold and ask your boss if the company is trimming "fat" (translation, layoffs) and if so, would they be willing to read a flexible job proposal that would save them money. Your creative assertiveness might just save your paycheck.
Next, spend some time evaluating your goals, deciding which are critically important and non-negotiable, and which you're willing to let go or negotiate. The process moves in a reverse pyramid as you consider the big picture below, and then whittle down to the details in the next step:
- Am I happy in my chosen profession? Position? Company? Why or why not?
- What are my one year, three year and five year personal and professional goals?
- Do I want to work part-time or a flexible full-time schedule?
- Do I want to work out of the home, the office or some combination?
- If I plan to work at home, will my children be home all day? If so, will I be able to complete my work?
- Do I need to work the number of hours necessary to qualify for the company benefit package? (Often 32 hours or more.)
- What is my ideal (realistic) salary/hourly/per project requirement? Can I afford to sacrifice income for flexibility?
Offer concrete and creative solutions
This is when you get down to the nitty gritty details to present to your employer. Write out several scenarios within each category listed below that you're genuinely willing to negotiate. Don't suggest anything you won't or can't seriously execute, or you'll lose all credibility. For example, don't offer to work every third Saturday when you can't imagine missing one of your son's soccer games. Budge when you can, stay firm when you must. Address each of the following in your proposal:
- Telecommuting schedule. Present several options. Perhaps, for example, you work three days at home and two in the office, four and one or one-half day home and one-half day at work. You might want to spend more time with your kids during the week so you could offer to work every other Saturday for a few hours, at home or in the office. Think about what's possible and what you're willing to do.
- Performance. Present an outline of how you'll meet your job expectations, explaining that some of the details will need to evolve organically, but that you will always meet your job requirements. While this explanation may sound loosey goosey, the reality is flexible schedules must evolve depending on the job requirements and your family's needs. Don't be afraid to leave yourself wiggle room while reassuring your boss that the job will get done. The whole point of negotiating a flexible schedule is that you need flexibility. All your employer cares about is if the job gets done to her satisfaction, within or under budget.
- Efficiencies. Perhaps you want to work fewer hours or have less direct responsibility. Can you give up the lost income? How can you complete your job in less time? Present ideas to your employer that will streamline processes and create measurable efficiencies. If you have to spend an entire weekend to create a new efficiency to prove to your boss that your flexible schedule won't add hours or labor but will rather, reduce waste, a lost weekend is well worth the payout. Offer, for example, to resolve an employee satisfaction issue, to streamline a report or presentation, to find a new print vendor, to reduce phone expenses, etc.
- Job share. Is your position conducive to job-sharing? Do you work with an employee who might job-share with you? If so, brainstorm with the employee before you sit down with your boss. Many companies offer job-share programs. Are you both willing to create a streamlined job function and take a pay and benefit cut? Selling an employer on a flex position is challenging enough, presenting a brand new job share position can be even more so, but it might also be the ideal scenario a company needs to keep from cutting valuable employees. Present a convincing argument for why this will work and then do whatever it takes, to make it work.
- Future promotion. Are you thinking long term? Perhaps you want to work fewer hours for a year or two to be home with the kids, but then gear up to take on more responsibility as your kids get older. If you have an eye on a future promotion, you'll need to stay viable to even be considered. Suggest, for example, that after one year if your flex schedule works well for both parties you would like to be considered for a promotion. In the meantime, stay abreast of industry changes, necessary job skills or accreditations, attend conferences or take night school. Build your "future" resume to show your employer you want to be taken seriously for an eventual promotion, emailing her updates on what you've done to date to keep yourself in the running. Be persistent but not pesky.
- Income and benefits: This is the biggie. Are you willing to take a pay and benefit cut to reach your terms? Compensation packages are valuable negotiating tools for an employer, but don't give up anything you can't spare. It's difficult to get back what you give away. Suggest a trial period. Agree on a set amount time when you both agree to evaluate the situation. Perhaps after your evaluation you decide to return full time, to leave the position or maybe the trial period worked like a charm. Whatever you do, don't leave this part of the negotiation up for loose interpretation just because it feels squirrely and uncomfortable.