So you’ve given the full-time, back-to-work-with-baby thing a real shot. But in the words of Katrina Alcorn, author of “Maxed Out: American Moms On The Brink,” you’re “leaning in so hard that you fall over.”
Does this sound like you?
It’s a stressful time. You may be walking around with a lethal combo of sleep deprivation, a hellish commute and the emotional rollercoaster ride that happens whenever you leave your baby who cries for you to stay. You’ve reached that place where you Need. More. Flexibility.
Welcome to life as a member of the juggling class. While having offspring isn’t the only reason people want or need more flexible schedules, it’s one of the major motivations driving women to seek out more flexible work.
How to find more flexible jobs is something we’ve talked about before. But today we’re focused on how to get more of what you want by staying put.
If you like your job and company but just feel like something’s gotta give, you should consider negotiating for more flexibility alongside a new job search. You may not think your company or job will accommodate a different kind of schedule. But you don’t know until you ask, and if you’ve started looking already, the worst that can happen is that you know where you stand.
Here are some general guidelines for how to negotiate for more job flexibility:
- Do your research: Find out what your company’s official policy is with regard to flexibility. Some companies have all-encompassing policies, and for others it’s manager- or department-specific. Find out who else has been given a flexible working situation, and how it works. If others haven’t, it doesn’t mean that you have no chance at all - but it may mean you’re in unchartered territory.
- Choose your timing: If you want to maximize your chances of success, be mindful of when you schedule your conversation. This may be a very logical thing to bring up during an annual performance review, for example, or perhaps at the end of a major project you’ve just brought to fruiting.
- Make a business case: This is not just all about you (even though it obviously is). Your manager and company need to hear not only that you will be able to deliver on your responsibilities but also that you may even be able to perform better or more successfully. It’s also a good time to remind everyone what you’ve contributed in the past - and how you have more to give.
- Be flexible: Ironically, you may end up getting more of what you want if you can baby-step your request. For example, if your ideal scenario is working 3 days a week, start with asking about 4 days a week. If they say yes and things go well on a 4-day per week schedule, you might end up having a pretty easy conversation in 6 months about moving to a 3-day week.
- Be clear about coverage: If you’re not working one or two days a week, who will handle urgent requests that come up while you’re out. For example, one executive we spoke to identified two of her key deputies who were in charge on days when she was not in the office.
- Get support: If others have done what you’re trying to do, ask them about how they manage to work remotely or compress their work weeks. Try to learn about their “wins” so you can make a more persuasive case for yourself about how you’ll navigate the situation. If the person you’re modeling is well-respected, it will probably help you make your case to point out that they were able to do it.
- Be open to a pay-cut: Sometimes, an employer may be willing to accommodate your schedule but will not want to pay you in the same way. While you should try to hold out for “having it all,” be prepared to negotiate a deal that involves a reduction of hours and pay.
- Be ready to be available: Even when you’re not in the office — and not supposed to be working — you’ll keep yourself in a far better situation if you check email every few hours. If your colleagues and management can “feel” your presence even when you’re not in the office, it will go a long way to solidifying your arrangement. You may even pave the way for other women.
Pat Katepoo has built a business advising working mothers and others about how to negotiate more flexibility. Her success story is inspiring. As she tells it:
"While working full-time in a salaried healthcare position...I proposed to the Executive Director (ED) a four-day workweek without a cut in my compensation.
The response? He was stridently opposed. (The ED was a strident guy all-around — feared by many — so his response was consistent with his style.) Within the same hour of negotiations, during which I made a solid case for the market value of my job role, I instead suggested a five percent reduction in pay to go along with my request for a 20 percent reduction in hours.
He agreed! Almost readily. Full employee benefits intact besides. Later, I concluded that saving money, even a relatively small amount, is what appealed to him."
What Pat suggests is to have options and different strategies to get more flexibility. There are some situations that make negotiation easier, of course. If your role is unique, if you’ve had the same manager for a few years and are considered valuable and a high-performer, you obviously have a lot of things going for you.
If you’re not in that situation, it may be harder, but not impossible.
Many companies these days understand that even though flexibility may be a bit of an annoying adjustment on their part, it may also help them retain women — and men.
So lean sideways, girl. And we wish for you balance that’s easier to hold than a Crow Pose. Namaste.