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A Flexible Work Life How to Ask for What You Want

Life Balance

Pat Katepoo.200x200
Pat Katepoo, Founder, WorkOptions.com

By Pat Katepoo

Having trouble getting what you want at work?  Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions.com, advises women on flexible work issues -- how to ask for what you need in the workplace to bring more balance into your personal life.   Here, Pat addresses two of the most common issues – telecommuting and flextime.

Q: "You can't telecommute -- you're a manager." That's exactly what I expect my boss to say when I propose a more flexible work arrangement.  I'm the Director of Technical Services for a publishing company. Much of my demanding job could be done from my home, and cutting my commute would restore some of the personal time that I'm craving. However, because I have people reporting to me, I'm preparing to ask for a telecommuting arrangement of only two days a week. Even so, I don't expect to get the response I want.  How do I make my case?

 
A: Anticipating objections is a smart move. In any negotiation, preparation before the “big meeting” primes you for a favorable negotiated outcome. Here is a scripted reply to adapt and practice:

“With meetings, travel and paid time off, like most managers, I'm not always in my office anyway. My staff and I communicate mainly through email, phone and texting, and that will continue seamlessly from my remote office. With three days a week on-site, my proposed telework arrangement maintains our regular staff meetings and performance monitoring. I have a well-trained team and they are motivated to do the necessary work without my standing by every moment. We'll be doing something that has been done successfully at many other companies such as DuPont, IBM and Johnson & Johnson. Why don’t we give the arrangement a fair trial period?”

Remember to practice your response to each likely objection. Practice and role-play will foster a sense of control over the negotiation process, which in turn, will boost your confidence and improve your performance. You may have to make your points repeatedly during the discussion.  And remember, by asking for a trial period, your boss may be more likely to agree, assuming it will not work out. But you then have the opportunity to rise to the occasion and, graciously of course, prove you're right.

Q: My current job is fun and interesting, but I want to scale back my hours so I can spend more time with my children. I've been working full-time for six years in customer relations for a privately-held company with about 40 employees. The ideal part-time schedule would have me leaving the office at 2:00 pm every day to pick up my daughter from kindergarten. I also have a seven month old son. My husband is all for it, but I don't think my manager will be as enthusiastic. Besides, my small employer doesn't have a flexible scheduling policy; how can I ask for something that's not offered? I'm feeling stuck and torn.

A: You’ve clearly defined what you need. Could you be limiting your options for work-life improvement by accepting the status quo? According to the authors of the book, Women Don't Ask, as a “result of powerful social influences,” women have an “impaired sense of entitlement.”  They further state that, “Instead of looking for ways to improve a difficult situation, women often assume that they are stuck with their circumstances.” Sound familiar?

Lots of small employers don't have formal flex policies. That's not a reason not to ask. In fact, many flexible work schedules are informally arranged between manager and employee without the benefit of a policy. That's not necessarily the best way; ideally all employees would have access to employer-initiated formal flexible work programs that address the needs of today's diverse workforce. Your kids may be in high school before that happens where you work, so it's up to you to initiate your own flexible work practice now.

Present a plan for the part-time schedule you want. With an established six-year track record, we'll assume your manager trusts you and values your work. A smart manager will welcome a proposal that delivers a business-case solution, rather than your resignation. Asking works. Go to it.

Pat Katepoo is the founder of WorkOptions.com, a website of tools and tactics for negotiating telecommuting, job sharing and other flexible work arrangements. A flexible work advisor since 1993, Pat has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Smart Money, Business Week, Working Mother, US News & World Report, Parents, Essence, Sales & Marketing Management, and on NBC Nightly News.

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