I’ve been fortunate: I have a flexible work schedule I like and that helps me balance career and home, all without compromising my income or going on the “mommy track.” When my oldest son was born, I planned to go back to work after my maternity leave, but with a caveat—I wanted to spend more time with him as well. Even though the thought of requesting a flexible work schedule seemed daunting, with several strategies I was able to negotiate a schedule I was happy with.
What are some examples of flexible schedules you might be considering?
- Part time (whether less hours per day, or less days per week)
- Job sharing with another coworker or temp
- Working from home and telecommuting
- Freelancing instead of working as an employee
- Working full time but during odd hours or days (instead of the typical Monday to Friday, nine-to-five)
Before I get into the tips I used, I want to mention two key components:
1. Career capital
As author Cal Newport writes in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, you need to develop rare and valuable skills that will give you leverage to shape the career you love.
Had I been a recent grad, a new employee, or even a sub-par employee, I would have found it more difficult to make requests. Instead, I’ve put in many years at the company, had a good track record, and enjoyed a great repertoire with my coworkers.
Every employee is replaceable, but the more valuable you are to your company, the easier it will be for you to shape a schedule that suits you.
2. The right job
Let’s say you want to work from home. Your request might be more difficult to approve if your job requires daily meetings or multiple phone calls. Nor would it be easy to be in the workplace at set hours, or if you have to collaborate with people on a constant basis.
But if you tend to work independently and can be more creative alone, or if you attend a few meetings but not nearly enough to warrant being in the office every day, you’ll have a better chance to have your request approved. Consider the work you have and see if your job will even enable you to create the schedule you desire.
If you do have plenty of career capital as well as the right job to request a flexible work schedule, consider the following steps to help make your case.
How to ask for a flexible work schedule
Phrase the request as a benefit to your company and boss
Whether you’re approaching your boss verbally or submitting a written proposal, don’t mention the benefits you reap with the new schedule too much. For instance, don’t focus on your desire to lessen your already-long commute or to spend more time with your kids after school.
However close you are with your bosses, they’re still looking out for themselves and the company. Imagine if your boss had to explain to his boss or colleagues that you have a flexible schedule because you wanted a better work life balance—it just wouldn’t make him look good.
Instead, focus on the benefits that your boss and the company can have. For instance, you might mention that the company can save money with your reduced salary and benefits. Or that you can be available for “off hours” such as early mornings or late evenings to cover work outside the typical nine-to-five schedule.
Remind your boss about why this schedule works for your job duties
A common reason bosses are hesitant to grant flexible work arrangements is that they fear the rest of the company will follow suit, or that they would be favoring you above everyone else. Instead, highlight how your job within the company is different from others’ job duties. Explain how this schedule is doable with the work you do, and mention how you can continue performing well even with your new schedule.
Start by asking for the ideal schedule…
While you don’t want to request something outrageous, ask for the schedule you would love to have within reason and let your boss negotiate down should she need to. For instance, if you’d love to work part time three days a week, request that even if you think a likelier solution would be to work four days a week. You never know—your boss just might agree to your request; if she doesn’t, then let her negotiate your request down.
…Then be flexible and open to suggestions
Your boss may not agree to everything you request, so be flexible. You can even ask for suggestions on what she thinks would work for her. If your boss is given the chance to craft a possible solution, she’ll be more likely to agree to it if she feels like she contributed to the idea.
Offer solutions to any lingering doubts
Your boss will want to know that you’re actually doing work and not lying down on the couch watching TV. Give him a general schedule of when you’d be working. You can also provide weekly progress reports. Should you need to meet face-to-face, suggest a Skype chat or offer to come in to the office for meetings. Make a list of the equipment and gadgets you have at home that will make working from possible, such as high-speed internet or a fast computer.
Whichever work arrangement you’re looking into, offer assurances to any possible doubts your boss might have. This not only helps strengthen your case, but it’s a good exercise for yourself before bringing it up to see if your flexible schedule is even doable.
Agree to a trial run
Another fear your boss might have is the feeling that she’s getting the short end of the stick or that this schedule will make her work life more difficult. Give your boss an out so that she doesn’t feel like she’s signing her life away by keeping the schedule open-ended.
Agree to a trial run, whether it’s something formal like a three month run or something casual just to “see how it works out.” Offer to meet down the line to discuss your schedule and tweak it as needed. This way, your boss will feel like nothing is set in stone and can bring up any issues she sees.
A win-win solution
Even though you’re asking for a flexible schedule to improve your life, a truly successful arrangement is one where both parties come to a happy conclusion. You’re not out to simply get as much as you can out of your work and leave them dry. Instead, find a schedule that works for both you and your boss and company.
Good luck and hopefully you’ll get the flexible work schedule that works for you. After all, a happy home life makes for productive work, and a happy work life makes for a balanced mom.
Get more tips about being a working mom:
- The “How Do You Do It” Working Moms Guide
- The Surprising Factor that Gives You Work-Life Balance
- Can You Actually Work from Home with a Baby?
- Why Do You Work or Stay-at-Home?
- First Day Back after Maternity Leave — Does It Get Better?
Do you have a flexible or odd work schedule? How has doing so made a difference in your home and work life? Do you prefer working a regular schedule? And would the work you do be conducive to a flexible work schedule?
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