Flexible Work Options for Mom: How To Negotiate A Flexible Schedule, Keep Your Job & Career, and Spend More Time With Your Children
These days, mothers are confronted with tough choices to make about raising their children while maintaining a job or career. Some must work to contribute to their household income; others want to "keep their fingers in the pie" of their career while raising children so that they may re-enter their field at full-force when the time comes. Still others simply feel the desire to work, to do something that is "theirs" and provides self-satisfaction. No matter what their situation, more and more women find themselves thinking, "How can I have a career and be the best mother possible?"
The answer for many is to seek work that allows for more time spent at home with their children. The task of finding a flexible career option, however, may seem daunting, even impossible. How do you know what your options are, and how do you negotiate a schedule that works for you, your family and your employer?
The first hurdle to clear is the "my employer will never go for it" mindset that many of us have around asking for flexible work schedules. Consider the following:
- 88% of Fortune 1000 companies offer part-time schedules, 77% offer flextime, and 48% offer job-sharing.
- 20% of the 20 million part-time workers in America are in professional positions.
- 11 million Americans telecommute for at least part of their work week, and represent the fastest growing segment of home-based workers.
- 95% of all employees who participate in job-sharing are women.
- 26% of all employed women work part-time.
Flexible job scheduling is neither a new nor an unusual concept, and most employers should be willing to consider it. In fact, employers benefit in a number of ways:
- by spending less (in wages and benefits) for part-time employees than a full-time employee
- by spending less on office space and equipment for telecommuters and others working from home
- by retaining quality employees who might otherwise quit
- by avoiding high and costly turnover rates
- by decreasing stress-related illness while increasing productivity
- by avoiding recruiting costs and difficulties, especially as other companies increase their work options
The downsizing of corporate America has opened new opportunities for those who want to work part-time or as temporary or freelance workers. Now, more than ever, valued employees can successfully negotiate flexible schedules, trading their talents for time with their families.
Flexible Work Options Available
Many flexible work options exist for moms who want to spend more time with their families. Those listed below represent the most common and accepted options, but in your situation, you may find that your employer is open to another creative solution or a combination, like working part-time at the office, part-time as a telecommuter. Be aware that flexible work options often involve a decrease in income and benefits; however, considering the lower costs you’ll incur in child care, commuting, meals out and work apparel, you may find the differences aren’t as great as they first appear.
Working part-time may seem the obvious choice; simply reduce your hours at the job you’re already familiar with, creating little stress or upheaval. Or look for a part-time job advertised at your local job bank, in the newspaper or on bulletin boards. Jobs with part-time hours are increasing as many employers attempt to cut costs and streamline their organizations. Working part-time is gaining more respect as a viable career choice as many part-time professional and managerial jobs in diverse fields become available.
Part-time is considered anything less than 40 hours per week. If benefits are important to you, ask how many hours are required to receive or retain them. It varies from company to company, but is usually in the 30 to 32 hours per week range. If you and your family are covered by another benefits package, such as your husband’s, your options for shorter hours are much greater.
The drawbacks to working part-time include lower income, fewer promotions, and possible fewer or no benefits, but the trade-off for more time spent with your children is immeasurable.
Of all the options, working as a temporary may be the easiest to get into and the most flexible. Your past or present employer may be willing to provide you with temporary assignments, or you can sign up with one or more temporary agencies. The variety of temp agencies and their specialties has grown immensely. Agencies now exist for various professions such as medical, legal and engineering, and for various skill levels; management-level temp agencies are on the rise. You may even want to consider freelancing, where you market your own skills to various companies.
Then, you decide which assignments to take, based on your schedule and family’s needs, while keeping your skills up-to-date, making an income, and staying in the job market. Hiring temporary workers is more popular than ever because of the reduced costs to the employer and the typically higher productivity levels achieved.
The disadvantages of temporary work include not having a predictable work schedule or dependable income, and difficulty in acquiring benefits such as health insurance and retirement funds. Some temporary agencies now offer benefits, however, and many guarantee a certain number of hours per week and provide training. The skills you acquire as a temp may enhance your career options in the future. If you choose to freelance, be aware that you will be responsible for paying all applicable employment taxes and keeping accurate records.
Many companies offer the option of sharing a job with another employee. Typically, one employee works mornings, the other employee works afternoons, or they divvy up days of the week. Because you share the job, also expect to share the income and benefits, although some employers will negotiate separately. Job sharing works well only when the job-sharers are compatible in work style, planning ability, expectations, and skill level. Good communication skills are a must between the job-sharing employees as well as with co-workers, supervisors, and customers. This extra work is well worth the effort, paying off in more time spent at home with your family.
This option works well for those who must maintain a full-time income, but want to spend precious after-school hours with their children. Flextime simply means work hours other than the typical 9 to 5 workday. It may mean a second or third shift, or it can mean dividing your day into separate shifts. Some employers may even allow you to set your own schedule based on your needs. Flextime works best if your job does not require regular interaction with co-workers or customers, although some companies require all employees in attendance during "core hours" for such interactions. Flextime is only an option for you if you are willing to sacrifice certain times of the day, like evenings with your family, or late nights, in order to spend other cherished moments at home.
Compressed Work Week
Another great option for those who need to work full-time, the compressed work week, fits 40 hours into fewer than five days, giving you entire days at home with your family. Some employers schedule three 12-hour days, others schedule four 10-hour days. While this option sounds ideal to some, beware of the fatigue factor, especially if your job is physically demanding or requires a lot of standing. You’ll also need to arrange for after-hours daycare coverage with family, friends, neighbors or a sitter. But that day or two off in the middle of the week will provide you with quality at-home time for you to enjoy your children.
Work at Home
The newest, fastest growing trend in working at home is telecommuting. Many employers are learning that they can get the best talent by offering the flexibility of letting employees work at home. Many skills and job functions are conductive to telecommuting, especially word processing or transcription, data entry, accounting, computer programming and telephone work. If you choose telecommuting, you may need special equipment, like a computer, modem and fax, or the company may provide it for you. You will need to check in regularly with supervisors and co-workers—adequate communication will ensure the continuation of your telecommuting position. Be aware of the challenges resulting from isolation and at-home distractions. Keep in touch with co-workers, scheduling "face-time" for meetings or maybe even lunch, and maintain a regular work schedule at home.
Starting your own home-based business, consulting or freelancing are also options for working at home. See the resource box at the end of this guide for more information about starting a home business.
Choosing the Best Option for You and Your Family
It may seem obvious from the start which work option will best suit your situation. If not, consider the following:
- Your children’s needs. Are you still dealing with diapers, sleep deprivation and nursing? Or are your main concerns getting your kids off to school each morning and being there when they get home? Deciding what you want to provide for your children will help you the most in deciding how you want to schedule your income-producing hours. Are you still dealing with diapers, sleep deprivation and nursing? Or are your main concerns getting your kids off to school each morning and being there when they get home? Deciding what you want to provide for your children will help you the most in deciding how you want to schedule your income-producing hours.
- Schedules. Does your husband get home from work early in the afternoon? Does your daycare center close by 5:30 sharp? Look at the times of day that can be covered by someone else and those that can’t when choosing your own working hours.
- Your job. Are your job functions easily performed at home? How will your co-workers be affected by your schedule? Do you deal with customers regularly, and need to be on site at certain times of the day? Determine how your job can be successfully performed in a flexible work situation.
- Your self. Can you work irregular shifts and not feel too fatigued? Are you bothered by isolation from co-workers? Do you feel uncomfortable not knowing when you’ll get your next temporary assignment? Take a look at your own temperament and personality to determine which work option fits you personally.
Negotiating A Flexible Schedule Or Work Option
You’ve decided on the work option that will best suit your needs. It may now be as easy as finding an existing job that matches your needs: a part-time payroll accountant, a flextime window dresser, a temporary software engineer, a home-based medical transcriptionist. If, however, you need to sell your idea to your current employer, your next step is to thoroughly research, plan and write a winning proposal, then be prepared to negotiate.
- Do your homework: Research your company’s current policies and past experiences with flexible schedules, telecommuting and job-sharing. Learn how other companies have successfully implemented such programs, and what the results were. Find other employees, in your company or elsewhere, who have successfully negotiated an alternative work option. Find out what worked for them and what didn’t, and think of creative solutions to potential problems. Dig up government statistics, trends, and analyses about profitability. Calculate how much money you will save the company, or how much more productive you will be. The more you know about your topic, the better you will be received when you present your proposal.
- Get input and support from your supervisor: Discuss your ideas with a trusted supervisor if possible. Ask for input: Do you support this idea? What problems would it create? How could it work better? Your supervisor can be your best ally or your worst enemy. Listen carefully to any concerns, then work thoroughly and carefully to create solutions. Go back and present your revised plan. Your goal is to enlist your supervisor’s support for your plan, and to have her/him help you sell it to the company.
- Create and present your proposal: No matter what field or industry you’re in, strive for a professional-looking, well-thought-out and comprehensive proposal that anticipates and answers any concerns and explains how the company will benefit from this change. Let them know if it will reduce overhead costs, increase your productivity, or simply entice you to stay with the company if you’ve been thinking of quitting to spend more time with your children. Think about where you are willing to be flexible, what points you’re willing to negotiate and how much, and, if the answer is no, what is your Plan B. Think through all of the possible scenarios and try to prepare for any eventuality.
When writing your proposal, be sure to include:
- A cover letter briefly stating your intentions and why you want to make the change, your contributions to the company thus far, and your eagerness to remain with and contribute to the company
- All pertinent research you have gathered
- Positive input from your supervisor and how you’ve addressed any concerns
- Case histories of others in the company or from outside who have successfully implemented flexible work options, and positive results from their experiences
- A specific plan covering:
- Hours you will work, from where, accomplishing what
- How you will communicate with others
- How responsibilities will be covered when you’re not in the office
- How emergencies or unexpected deadlines will be dealt with
- Your ability to be flexible
- Your proposal for compensation and benefits
- Benefits to the company, such as reduced costs, higher productivity and morale
- Suggested trial period and how the success of the proposed change will be evaluated
The fewer questions left unanswered, the better your proposal will be received, and, hopefully, the sooner you’ll be starting your new work schedule.
- Follow up: If your first attempt is not successful, ask that your employer clearly state her/his concerns. Again, carefully work through these concerns, doing any research necessary, and adjust your proposal accordingly. Then, try again! Be persistent as long as your proposal continues to improve and is of greater benefit to the employer.
When you have successfully negotiated a new work schedule, follow your plan carefully. Communicate often with everyone involved. Do everything you promised, but beware the trap of trying to do everything you did before in less time, and of becoming overly stressed or burned out. Create new solutions as problems come up. Be flexible when you can be and compromise when it makes sense to do so. Evaluate periodically, and make changes accordingly with your employer’s input and approval. Keep your employer, your supervisor and your co-workers informed about how well you are doing, and how the company is benefiting because of your work schedule.
Once you’re firmly implanted in your new schedule, be an advocate for other mothers who want more time with their children—you’re the expert now!