After a difficult pregnancy with twins, I negotiated a flexible work schedule with my boss — here's the script I used to frame it as a win-win
- Jolene Cramer is a senior marketing director at Limeade and coauthor of "Take Care", a book for working parents and their kids about the importance of care in the workplace.
- After a difficult pregnancy and giving birth to twins, Cramer says she found herself overwhelmed, distracted, and exhausted with the high demands of her work and home lives.
- To better balance both commitments, she spoke with her boss about adjusting her work and in-office hours to be more flexible.
- Cramer says it's important to know what you want before starting the conversation with your manager, be willing to negotiate, and frame your ask with a win/win outcome for you and the company.
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Five years ago, I was back at work after having my twin daughters. Back at a job that I loved, at an amazing company, with coworkers I respected and appreciated. I was a director with two new healthy babies at home. Career, motherhood, marriage — I had it all. Or, so I thought.
Six months after a very difficult pregnancy with twins, my body didn't follow simple commands. Sleeping through the night was a distant dream. My husband and I were overwhelmed and unhappy with each other, with resentment building. I was everywhere but nowhere — unable to be fully present at either home or work due to anxiety and stress. One Saturday night, at the grocery store, sometime around midnight, it hit me — I can't do this.
So, I summoned the courage to discuss it with my boss. I had worked at the company for 10 years and was successful and well-respected. I was ready and willing to trade in my sweat equity for flexibility.
Working parents and caregivers are under an unprecedented amount of pressure.
The US could be on the verge of a mental health crisis; with half of Americans reporting that the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health. COVID-19 is adding more balls to juggle than ever before, each replacing prior support systems and requiring experience and expertise that we may need to learn on the fly. Working parents have had to become a teacher, camp counselor, crafting expert, cheerleader, manager, working professional, chef, therapist, and janitor all at once.
Read more: A New York-based CEO and serial entrepreneur swears by carving out 2 'focus days' a week where he doesn't attend meetings. Here's how he works them into his routine.
Flexibility and empathy are paramount when it comes to supporting working parents, and keeping them engaged and set up to deliver great work. Perhaps my story of a grocery store aisle revelation (or rather, breakdown) and quest for that flexibility can help others as well, especially this Fall when the stakes have never been higher.
So, here is some advice, based on my own experience on how to set the stage for a flexible work schedule.
1. Know yourself
Examine your schedule and needs and determine what will best support your well-being. For me, I wanted more time at home, with less time spent commuting. I wanted to be able to be present in my girls lives in a more meaningful way while also maintaining my career. This was at the root of my request.
2. Be clear with your ask
Don't make your management team guess at what you're asking for. Clearly request the flexibility you need, based on the above. Is it starting work every day at 10 a.m.? Is it Fridays off? Is it working from home multiple days a week (something that used to be an ask!) Very clearly state your request, ideally in person or over the phone followed up by in writing via email.
3. Be ready to negotiate
I was willing to trade off salary for flexibility. I'm sure not everyone would be willing to do this, but I wanted a set schedule with reduced hours — not just a reallocation of those hours. So, when my manager expressed support for a schedule where I was in the office Tuesday — Thursday and off Monday and Friday, I was open to getting paid less. I was officially on a flex time schedule, and was paid a portion of my prior salary.
Read more: A Slack VP says more digital HQs and less physical workspaces are the future — and it's a huge opportunity to build stronger, more diverse teams
4. Find the win/win
Understand what your goals are and, also, understand your company's goals. If you can frame your ask around ensuring everyone gets what they want, then you are more likely to end on a positive note.
5. Decide on a schedule to review and report back
This is an important one. Don't assume that this is forever, and that it will work perfectly. Request a more flexible schedule for a set time period (three months is realistic) and then be ready to reassess how it went at that point and adjust accordingly.
Fast forward to today, and I now, fittingly so, work for Limeade — an employee experience software company. I still work a flexible schedule of four days a week, although some weeks are closer to full time and others are a little less.
Having a flexible schedule means that I could do co-op preschool, spend Friday afternoons with my parents and kids together, and take long weekend adventures with my family.
Keep in mind, not working the typical Monday through Friday can still create stress and anxiety when you have to decline the meeting you don't want to decline, or you're have to leave a meeting early because your sitter is leaving, or you don't raise your hand for a project because you know you don't have the bandwidth.
But for me, it's been worth every second.
When employers allow a flexible schedule option, it shows that their organization cares — especially for working parents attempting to keep all those balls in the air during this pandemic period. This gesture not only will build trust between a boss and a worker, but it will also inspire employees to put in their best work.
Jolene Cramer is the senior director of marketing at Limeade and coauthor of "Take Care."
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