5 Ways to Negotiate Flexible Working Hours After Your Work-Life Balance Has Been Ruined

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May 22, 2024 at 5:43AM UTC

You’ve found yourself working late night after late night, so much so that logging off at 8 p.m. (or 9 p.m.,or 10 p.m….) has become a new normal. You don’t want to leave your current role, but you want to get out of the rut and get your life back.

Negotiating for better work-life balance — and flexible hours — isn’t just something job seekers get to do when they’re offered a new role. There’s opportunity for current employees to do the same if they take stock of what’s happening in their current job and get specific about what would make it better. Here’s how to get back your work-life balance and ask for flexibility in your current role — after you’ve slipped our work and life boundaries one too many times.

1. Set expectations.

Prioritization is a key factor in work-life balance. While you may have a ton of action items on your plate, it’s not sustainable — or even possible — to try and do them all at once. Instead, you need to be able to prioritize urgent items and be able to push back other work if needed, rather than trying to cram it into one day. 

First, ask about expectations when your coworkers or manager puts work on your plate. You need clarity both on what you’re being asked to do and by when you’re being asked to do it. Clear expectations about what you’re supposed to do will minimalize “work about work” (more on that later) and ensure you’re ready and prepared to dive in and complete what you’re being asked to do. Deadlines will help you prioritize when you need to get the work done.

2. Set aside time for “work about work.”

Work about work is the back-and-forth work it takes to actually function as a team. It can be communication about something you’re working on or even the work it takes to prioritize your workday. It’s not the actual work that needs to get done, but rather all of the other work that goes into making that work happen. 

Unfortunately, work about work drains both our time and productivity. According to Asana, “work about work causes employees to miss over one-quarter of their deadlines each week.”

In order for us to get our actual work done efficiently, we can’t let “work about work” drain our productivity. The first step is blocking off time to do our actual work when we won’t let “work about work” distract us. This means being strict about NOT checking incoming messages or emails when you’re working on an important task. Manage expectations with your coworkers and manager by letting them know you’ll be heads down during these periods and unable to respond to their messages immediately. 

Then, block off time at the start and ends of your workday (or whenever works for you and your team) for you to dig into that work about work — responding to other messages, sending status updates, reporting, making your next to-do-list, etc. 

3. Secure support.

Having poor work-life balance often isn’t a negative reflection on your and your productivity; instead, it can mirror a company culture of overwork and little bandwidth. Getting the work-life balance you need isn’t just a factor of you optimizing your workday. It also requires outside support from your manager and team. 

Speak directly to your manager and coworkers about what you’re going through. Being upfront about the challenges you’re going through helps them understand your workload, manages their expectations and even offers them the opportunity to help find solutions. 

4. Be specific.

Now that you’ve tackled strategies for better work-life balance, you need to be specific when asking for flexibility. Don’t just start a conversation with your manager that you need more flexibility; instead, come prepared with potential schedules, ideas and other plans as a starting point. 

“For public changes, rather than simply telling your supervisor that you want more time off or more flexible hours, securing support from key mentors, partners, and coworkers — or even better, formally applying for a new internal position or a flexible working scheme — is likely to result in more lasting change,” write Ioana Lupu and Mayra Ruiz-Castro in Harvard Business’ Review “Work-Life Balance Is a Cycle, Not an Achievement.”

Having potential options and plans for your manager to evaluate not only makes it easier for them to say yes — but also for both of you to be able to practically envision how this schedule would change current workflows and schedules. 

You should also be specific about how long you’d like to try the schedule out before you and your manager touch base about how it’s explicitly going again.

“A trial makes it so everybody can see how things are progressing. You don't want to draw a line in the sand,” says Debra Wheatman, Fairygodboss member and founder and president of Careers Done Write. Wheatman said. “It softens the edges by saying: ‘let’s try it out’ and that gives the employee an opportunity to deliver amazing results.”

5. Re-evaluate, re-evaluate, re-evaluate.

Unfortunately, asking for the work-life balance and flexibility you want isn’t an instant cure-all for years of overwork and burnout. A healthy work-life balance requires constant upkeep — especially as your role, team, company and life shift. Hours that work for you one month may not work the next.

When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed again, re-evaluate where your boundaries are being crossed and where you’re finding challenges with your work. Then, move through the steps again of setting expectations, setting boundaries between work and work about work, securing support and getting specific about what you want. This is an ongoing task, but a valuable one — your mental health, career success and work-life balance are worth it.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Zoe Kaplan is a Staff Writer & Content Strategist at Fairygodboss.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for regaining work-life balance after you’ve lost it? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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