In early spring 2013, I formally requested a flexible work arrangement from my employer. I had been back at work for three months following maternity leave, and I had been using vacation time to take off one day a week. I was hoping for an agreement that would allow me to go part time for at least a year.
My request was not unprecedented. My organization has a policy that allows full-time employees to go part time for up to two years (with a reduction in salary) while maintaining full-time status. I’ve seen many managers agree to part-time schedules, flexible hours, and work-from-home arrangements. But in my case, my request was denied, and my supervisor offered me the option to work from home one day a week instead.
I’ve reflected on this situation a lot over the past year and a half and how I could have approached the request differently. I’ve also watched many of my mom friends navigate various flexible work arrangements with their employers. The idea that we can find a middle ground between full-time stay-at-home mom and full-time work-outside-the-home mom fascinates me—on the surface, it seems like these arrangements could be an answer to many issues families face when trying to balance work and life.
But getting management to think differently about what works for their employees, particularly those who are mothers, fathers, or caretakers in some other capacity, can be tough. And we’re still in relatively uncharted territory—the options for flexible arrangements vary wildly based on corporate culture, job function, direct management, and of course, politics.
I plan to write about working mothers (and really, who isn’t a working mother?) a lot in the coming year, but I figured I’d start with those of us in more traditional work situations who have been granted flex time. The hard part is over, right? Not really. Because many companies are new to flexible work arrangements and often don’t have overarching policies about these options, navigating your new situation can be tricky.
I’m not in human resources. I wrote this based on my own experiences and listening to issues friends were running into. But I decided to go one step further and get an HR professional to weigh in. Hopefully it will be helpful if you are (or happen to find yourself) in one of these sticky situations. There are certainly more pitfalls to discuss, but these are the three I hear about most.
Hurray! Your boss agreed to let you work part time. You got exactly what you asked for… right? Maybe not. While your boss might be totally fine with you taking a pay cut and being out of the office, she might not be prepared to lighten your load. This usually comes down to resources—just because you’re part time now doesn’t mean they’re prepared to hire someone to pick up the slack.
Avoid this flex-time pitfall: You don’t want to be paid half your salary to do the same amount of work. When you start discussions with your supervisor about a flexible arrangement, outline how you see your workload changing. Recommend solutions—an intern, a junior coworker looking to grow, a part-time hire, or a job share are all possibilities, or maybe there’s a more efficient way of doing business that’s been overlooked.
Give some thought to your bottom line. Maybe compensation won’t exactly equal hours worked all of the time—but if you’ve been salaried, you’re not paid extra for those busy periods when you’re in the office upwards of 40 hours a week. While you shouldn’t do 100 percent of the work at 50 percent of the pay, maybe you feel comfortable if your workload creeps closer to 60 percent some of the time. You could also discuss a situation with your boss where you reduce your hours during slow periods to compensate for busy weeks. Finding a balance may not be completely fair, but being home half the time while keeping your job might be worth it. You have to determine where the line is for you.
Ultimately, if you find yourself in a situation where you know you’ll end up doing more than you’re fairly compensated for, a more realistic arrangement might be that you work from home a few days a week rather than an actual reduction in your hours (and therefore salary).
Pitfall 2: Your co-workers are giving you serious side-eye.
Hurray! You’ve been given the go-ahead to work from home twice a week. You got exactly what you asked for… right? Well, kind of, except that your officemates are acting like you’re no longer pulling your weight on that major team project—regardless of whether or not you actually are.
Avoid this flex-time pitfall: Your coworkers’ ill-will could be due to a lot of factors—they might think you’re getting special treatment or maybe a similar request of theirs was denied. Or they might simply not be a fan of “special” arrangements.
Avoid this interoffice angst by heading it off at the pass. If you’re working with people on an ongoing initiative, tell them upfront about your new work arrangement. Make sure they understand your hours, how they can reach you, and that your work on the team won’t be affected. Over-communicate to these coworkers for the first few weeks of your new arrangement so they see that you’re available and not dropping any balls. If it’s just a question of their comfort level, this strategy should help your relationships return to normal pretty quickly.
Maybe the awkwardness is coming from a coworker who feels there was favoritism or that a flex-time policy is not being implemented fairly across the board. If they confide in you or make a snarky remark about your situation, you can site the policy and suggest they talk to human resources or their direct supervisor if they are interested in a similar arrangement. Beyond that, it’s not your problem, and hopefully they’ll get over it.
If your coworkers continue to give you the cold shoulder, there’s not much you can do, except your job. Haters gonna hate. Maintain your professionalism and don’t give them any ammunition when it comes to thinking your work is suffering. If they become outwardly hostile, go to your manager or human resources.
Pitfall 3: Boundaries are not respected.
Hurray! Your supervisor has signed off on a schedule that allows you to get in and leave early so that you can pick your child up on time. You got exactly what you asked for… right? In theory, but your coworkers (and maybe even your boss) seem to conveniently forget that you’re in the office from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. when they regularly schedule you for meetings at 4:00 p.m.
Avoid this flex-time pitfall: It’s probably an oversight and a little communication on your part will probably go a long way toward remedying this situation. Make your coworkers aware of your new schedule—send them an email with your hours, and if necessary, a polite reminder from time to time. Block off your calendar when you are not in the office. Respond to meeting requests scheduled for hours you’ll be out with suggestions for new times. Eventually they’ll get the message.
From time to time, your flexible work arrangement may require you to be flexible too. Don’t rearrange your life for every random 30-minute chitchat, but make a strategic exception every now and then to show that you’re a team player and able recognize when something is really important or immovable for other reasons. Your coworkers and boss will appreciate it; just make sure they’re still respectful of your schedule overall.
What about you? Do you have a flexible work arrangement that allows you to better balance work and home? Has this situation worked out for you, or have you run into some of these (or other) pitfalls?