Negotiating a Flexible Work Schedule

While we have a way to go as a society to make life easier for working parents, many companies now have “family friendly” policies for their employees. If you think you may need to alter your work schedule after having children, talk to your boss and/or human resources department ahead of time.

While approaching your boss can be intimidating, it is essential to establishing a work schedule that gives you the time and flexibility to meet your family responsibilities. To maximize your chances of getting what you want, prepare for this meeting like you would a business negotiation. Come prepared, decide what you want, and know what you’re willing to negotiate.

Do Your Homework

Know Your Company’s Policy. Make sure that you are aware of any policies that your employer has on reduced work schedules or working from home. Taking advantage of programs that are already in place is the easiest route to changing your schedule.

Investigate What Other Employees Have Negotiated. Even if your company has no formal policy, it might, as a matter of practice, allow employees to work from home, for example, or reduce their schedules. Knowing this ahead of time will make it easier to get approval for similar arrangements. Employers don’t want to be perceived as favoring one employee over another.

Know Your Rights. While the U.S. is far behind other developed countries in terms of parental leave and flexible work policies, you do have some protections. All workers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family or medical reasons. Additionally, you cannot be fired or discriminated against for being pregnant, and you can’t be treated differently because of your sex. The EEOC has recently clarified that companies that offer maternity leave for mothers beyond time required for physical recovery from childbirth must also offer the same benefit to fathers.

Decide What You Want Ahead of Time

Consider Your Options. Several types of family-friendly workplace arrangements have developed over the last few decades. Think about what’s most important to you, and which type of arrangement will meet that need. Do you want to reduce your hours? Have more flexible hours? Work from home? Below are some common arrangements that can make it easier for you to meet your work and family responsibilities.

  • Flexible work schedule (Flextime) – Adjusting your starting and finishing hours to accommodate school runs, parent-teacher conferences, etc. Working the extra time when you can means you will have the time off when you need it.
  • Telecommuting – Working from home one or two days a week can help resolve childcare issues, save wasted time on the commute to work, and give you space and time to focus on your current task without the distractions of the office environment.
  • Condensed work week – Can you work a four day week? Can you split the extra hours that you are contracted for across those four days?
  • Job Sharing – Can you split your role with someone and reduce the number of hours that you work in order to have more time to meet out of work commitments?

Know Your Value

If you are a highly-valued employee who would be difficult to replace, you will have an easier time getting your employer to agree to your requests. Think about the unique value you bring to the organization and how difficult it would be to replace you. The more difficult it would be, the more power you’ll have in negotiations. If you’re serious about leaving the company if it doesn’t address your concerns, push hard for what you want. Your employer will likely accommodate your requests if it would be easier to do so than it would be to find a replacement.

Know What You’re Willing to Negotiate

Any good negotiator goes into a negotiation knowing what’s acceptable to him or her. If your employer is going to end up with less from you, he or she will most likely want some kind of concession.

Think ahead of time about what, if anything, you’re willing to give up. The most common tradeoff is money. If you would like to work fewer hours, be willing to take a pay cut. Decide how much of a cut in pay you’re willing to take before asking your employer for a reduced schedule.

Also consider whether you’re willing to walk away. Have a Plan B if your employer denies your request. Are you willing to simply quit? Does your family rely on your income or could they get by on your spouse’s salary? Would you be able to get a comparable job? Think about these options beforehand so that you have a strategy if your boss says no.

If your boss denies your request, don’t take immediate action that you might regret later. Take a few weeks or months to think through your options. If you think you can find a better position elsewhere, start looking. It’s always easier to find a job while you still have one, so you might have to simply tough it out until you find something else.   Research the job market for an individual with your skillset prior to approaching your employer. If your current work schedule is a serious problem and other companies are willing to offer more flexibility, you will have far greater negotiating power with your current employer.

Look at Things from Your Employer’s Perspective

While you’re caught up with your own concerns, your boss has their own problems to deal with. Make it easy for them to say yes. If you’re asking for a flexible schedule or the ability to work from home on certain days, reassure your boss that your productivity won’t suffer. If possible, explain how your proposed plan would actually improve your performance.

If you’re looking to work a reduced schedule, identify particular tasks or areas of responsibility that you could hand off to someone else or how those tasks might be outsourced more cheaply. Be prepared to accept a cut in pay. Depending on your situation, a fair reduction in your pay might correlate with the percentage reduction in your hours.

Negotiate with Confidence

Negotiating a flexible work schedule can be intimidating.  Many employees are nervous about asking their boss for something; however, you’ll never get what you want if you don’t ask for it. Keep in mind that your employer needs you just as much as you need them, so don’t be afraid to speak up. The worst that can happen is they say no.

About the Author

Shannon McNulty

Shannon McNulty is the founder of Savvy-Parents.com and a lawyer in New York City who provides legal planning for parents with young children. Shannon received her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and her LL.M. in Taxation from NYU School of Law. She has also earned her CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(TM) designation. You can learn more about Shannon and her firm at www.cityparentslaw.com.

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