Know the Flexibility You Want in Your Current Job

If your current work structure is too demanding and you’re considering a work hiatus, first explore a more flexible schedule with your boss.

Women frequently tell me they left their jobs because flexibility was impossible. When I dig deeper, I find that they made premature assumptions or exerted no effort to negotiate. A boss who is asked a simple question on the fly e.g., “Can I work at home on Fridays?”, is not likely to react positively. It takes a more professional proposal, ideally a written one that leads to flexibility about 80% of the time, detailing all the safeguards that will ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

Before you craft a proposal, pinpoint the flexibility you want. A vague request puts the onus on your boss to figure out possible scenarios. Get specific by asking yourself these three key questions:

1.Can I afford to earn less than a full-time salary? Do I want reduced hours or a more flexible full-time schedule?
2.How much do I want to advance to more senior levels? Would flexwork slow my progress? Is a better work/life blend more valuable?
3. Could I compress a predictable 40 hours into fewer days?

Going part-time

If you don’t want to work 40 hours or more, then what is the alternative? What is a job share possibility and who could be a good partner? Could your most important job responsibilities be done in a part-time schedule? Could you work three days and be paid 60% of your salary—a substantial savings for your employer and two free days for you? How would a part-time schedule affect your employee benefits eligibility?

There are other considerations as you consider your ideal flexible schedule. Would your day begin or end earlier/later than the standard hours? There are practicalities to think about such as which regularly scheduled meetings require your on-site participation? And should you be on site for predictable monthly responsibilities requiring last-minute coordination among many people? If you’re a manager, how much on-site training or oversight is needed by your direct reports? You might be a person who needs the buzz of a busy office to be productive. If you’re in a client-facing role you need to think about how your flexwork schedule would sync with their needs, especially for those in different time zones. What are known busy periods and would you be be willing to forego flexibility during those times? Would your current childcare arrangements fit your ideal flexible schedule? Would your childcare provider be flexible if you need to work extra time in emergency situations? Would you prefer to cut back on or eliminate travel? How would travel affect your desired flexible schedule?

Know Which Employers Have the Most Flexible Cultures

If you run up against a brick wall getting the flexwork you want, head toward
small businesses—often led by individuals who fled from inflexible corporate America. Great progress has been made by employers across-the-board, but it may be years before flexibility is status quo across big corporates or mandated by government. Smaller, more nimble management teams (especially at professional services firms, nonprofits, companies founded more recently and those employing more women) have the leeway to bend on work structures. Small employers (50 to 99 employees) are much more likely than large employers (1,000+ employees) to offer employees the ability to:

· Change start/end times periodically or daily
· Compress workweeks by working longer hours on fewer days
· Work some hours at home
· Take time off without penalty as personal needs arise.

The big take-away is that today women have options to nurture both family and financial security. It’s possible to lean in-between in a wide range of workplaces—keeping both balance and sanity intact.

Kathryn Sollmann is a flexwork expert, speaker and career coach—and the author of Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead.