How to Reduce Your Hours at Work Without Burning Your Bridges

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Freelance Writer & Nonprofit Information Officer
Reducing hours at work can be a touchy subject. To some, reducing hours means reducing productivity, which in turn implies that you're lowering your value as an employee or even as a person. But the healthiest, happiest and often most successful people know where to draw their boundaries and how to optimize their time. Reducing hours at work can be a key part of this.

Why do people reduce their hours at work?

There are many reasons to cut down your hours at work. Needing more time with your children,  commuting costs (financial and environmental), making time for other work or other projects, dealing with personal issues: the list is endless. According to The Guardian article “Can I afford a four-day week?" people often cite gaining more time with children, studying or learning other skills, poor health and reducing stress as the main reasons for reducing work hours.

6 Steps for reducing your hours.

1. Do your homework.

What do you know about the flexible work options your employer offers? If you have a coworker who has reduced hours or made other flexible work arrangements, talk to them and ask how they negotiated their benefits with your employer. Even if it doesn’t seem like anyone is utilizing flexible options, that doesn't mean it's not possible. If the company doesn't have policies, draft a proposal. Putting in the effort to show what other employers offer and the benefits of reduced hours will demonstrate that you take this seriously and want to find the best solution for everyone.

2. Be specific.

If you know what you want, ask for it. Whether it's a four-day workweek or leaving an hour earlier each day, having a specific proposal shows your employer that you have thought this through and that you don’t want to waste their time by forcing them to come up with a proposal. Value your work and your time: this will encourage your employer to value your work as well. Be clear about exactly how your plan would work and the benefits. Show how your proposal will help your employer, department or company. Remember that the most common benefit of reducing work hours is an increase in productivity when you are on the clock.

3. Be ready to fight for it.

Your employer may push back on your request. Especially if you're appealing to a direct supervisor and they feel overworked themselves, letting a direct report work fewer hours might be the last thing they want to consider. Again, focus on your specifics and how your proposal will benefit everyone. Consider ways your employer might push back and have rebuttals ready. Remain calm and confident: widespread flexible work is still fairly new, and this might be an opportunity to introduce your employer to a different concept.

4. Be flexible.

You may need to be prepared to give some things up. In any negotiation, you want to have some appearance of flexibility. We've also seen TV shows where an employee makes huge demands and the employer caves to all of them because the employee is just so amazing, but real life requires more nuance and communication. Know what you are willing to negotiate on before you sit down with a boss or HR manager. If it’s your salary, how much are you willing to compromise? If it’s priority assignments, are you willing to hand some over? Remember that flexibility is a win-win for employers and employees. Companies don’t want to lose dedicated employees, and employees don’t need to abandon their goals just because they want to rework a few things. If you remember this in your meetings, it will help you remain composed.

5. If you don’t like the way things are headed, ask for more time to consider your options.

This advice comes from Belma McCaffrey, founder of WorkBigger, in the Forbes article entitled “4 Expert Tips To Reduce Work Hours Without Hurting Your Career.” Asking for a reduction in hours can be stressful: we don’t want our employers to think we are lazy or that we don’t care about the success of the organization. If we don’t go into meetings valuing our own work and time, it's easy to agree to a counter-proposal we may not actually want, feeling that we owe it to our employer after asking to work less
But asking for a reduction in work hours is nothing to be embarrassed about, and it certainly doesn't imply that you don’t want what's best for your employer. Be flexible, but know your boundaries, and if things aren’t going the way you want, ask for time. Doing so will show your employer how much you value yourself and your work and that you really are willing to consider different options and devise the best possible plan.

6. Don’t get stuck.

Don’t get me wrong: job searching is tough. But if you need a reduction in work hours and your employer isn’t being flexible, it may be time to consider other options. How much an employer is willing to work with an employee and be flexible shows how much they value their employees and how much they care about their overall well-being. If your employer is showing zero flexibility, this doesn’t bode well for either of these fronts. Spend some time considering what you need to get out of your career and your day-to-day life. If it isn’t happening, it may be time to politely resign.

Should you do it?

For people who are paid hourly or on a salary, dropping to a four-day workweek doesn’t always come with the 20% pay cut you might expect. Since you could go down a tax bracket, save on child care or commuting costs or become eligible for other programs, the final figure is usually more than you would expect. For people who are self-employed, take-home pay might not go down at all since your productivity during the four-day week is sure to go up with the supplementary earnings. Ultimately, the choice to cut down work hours is yours and will be unique to your situation. But everyone should at least seriously consider it and crunch some numbers (finances, time to work on other projects, time to spend with family and so on) before ruling it out.
Careers are becoming more flexible every year, with more and more people opting to be self-employed, telecommute, take on side gigs or reduce hours to make their work actually work for them. Some people are more privileged than others in this regard: they might have understanding employers or be in an industry that pays enough to not have to worry about a pay cut from reducing hours. Only you can decide if you can swing a reduction in hours or if doing so will increase your stress, but allowing yourself time to make that decision will undoubtedly be time well spent.


Can an employer cancel your shift?
It really depends. The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to cancel and change shifts. But different states have different laws about employers changing schedules and how much notice is necessary — the range is usually 0-3 weeks of advance notice. If you are represented by a union, chances are also good that you are entitled to a certain amount of notice of cancelation or change in shift. Most employers give contracts that entitle you to a certain number of hours per week, so if an employer cancels a shift, they will, in most cases, have to give you another. Bottom line: look into your state labor laws as well as your union and company policies because everywhere is different.
Can I reduce my hours at work while pregnant?
Employers typically have well-documented maternity leave policies, but sometimes you need to reduce hours while you're pregnant, and there are many options for doing so, depending on your employer. Workplace discrimination is prohibited by federal and state law, so if you feel you're being denied options because of your pregnancy, you should seek the help of an attorney. However, there are no federal laws guaranteeing comprehensive accommodations for pregnant employees, so not receiving a reduction in hours might not be enough to argue discrimination; it depends on your state and employer. Healthcare providers can help employees obtain accommodations and can sometimes provide patients with information and resources on their state employment rights.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Jasmine Shirey serves as an Information Officer at the Forum for African Women Educationalists - Zimbabwe Chapter (FAWEZI). She's also a contributing writer for Fairygodboss.

What advice do you have for someone thinking of reducing their working hours? Share your experiences and tips in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members.