Dear Pat: I’m the proud mother of two adorable children under three years old. I’m also a Customer Operations Trainer for a large bank. I want nothing more than to be a stay-at-home mom with my kids, but financially, that’s not an option right now.
Ideally, I’d like to work three, 10 hour days a week, with at least one of those days working from home.
My manager of five years admires my work. She also has young children and struggles with work-life balance, expressing concern for not getting enough time with her kids. Yet she’s sometimes rigid in following procedure and process, so she may not be open to my proposal.
If she doesn’t approve my part-time schedule request, I’m unsure what to say in response. Can you help? Tired Trainer
Dear Tired: I sense you might be thinking that you have only one request, that is, for your “ideal” schedule. And you’re expecting only one response—either Yes or No—and that a No ends the conversation.
I recommend a different approach that expands your options, includes some give-and-take, and keeps the conversation going until a mutual agreement is reached.
Your request for a part-time schedule kicks off a negotiation. This doesn’t mean it’s you-against-her or a win-lose proposition.
Instead, view the negotiation as a collaborative, problem-solving conversation. This is likely to lead to a mutually-agreeably outcome.
The fact is, even with your solid plan, you might get some push-back and objections from her, if not an outright No. Your aim is to keep a No from ending the discussion by asking questions, addressing concerns, and suggesting alternative solutions.
So keep the conversation going until you reach mutual agreement. The way to do that is by being prepared with a list of options to discuss.
In your case, that means your acceptable fall-back positions for a part-time schedule. If they’re well-defined ahead of time, you can negotiate with your manager with those alternative options in mind. For example, a four-day workweek of 7-hour days, with one working from home. Or
For example, her objection to your proposal might be in response to your request to the 3-day workweek, but not to the reduced hours. You won’t know that until you continue the conversation and surface her true objections. For example:
You: “May I have a better understanding of your concerns about my proposed schedule?”
Manager: “We’re short-staffed right now so I need you to be more available than three days a week.”
You: “I see. In that case, I’d like to propose I come in four days a week and work 7-hour days. That would be a workable alternative for both of us. How about we give it a fair trial of say, three or four months? Then we can re-evaluate depending on our staffing status.”
So a “yes” could follow your suggested fall-back (compromise) position of four, 8-hour days or five, 6-hour days.
Asking for More (Telecommuting, Too)
What about the telecommuting day you want to add to the reduced schedule?
Depending on how the overall conversation is going, and the degree of acceptance or push-back you’re getting, you may decide to propose working remotely one or two days a week during the same conversation or later on. Judicious timing is a factor in getting approval of flexible work.
Finally, let’s talk about your BATNA, i.e., your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. You said you’re willing to leave your job if you can’t get a part-time schedule. That gives you strong negotiating leverage.
You won’t use it as an ultimatum, of course. But you can use it to keep the conversation going, either at the time of your initial request or later. The aim is compel your manager to want to explore mutually-agreeable workable alternatives when she is otherwise rigid in her response to your efforts to be flexible.
Only employ this leveraging tactic if you run into a brick wall with the approach outlined above.
Adapt the following to fit your way of speaking:
You: “I want to convey that my work will be productive and even more focused if we could come to a mutual agreement on a reduced work schedule. This is a very high priority for me in this season of my career. It’s only fair for you to know that, if we can’t work something out, I’ll need to look for work flexibility somewhere else. I’m wondering if instead we could continue exploring how a flexible schedule could work for the both of us.”
Manager: “You’re going to quit?”
You: “What I’m saying is, figuring out a mutually-agreeable flexible schedule is the most attractive option for both of us, so that I can still be a part of this training team. I would rather not have to look elsewhere.”
You’ll know by her response if a few of the bricks were loosened or not. If not, you’ll know it’s time to revisit How and Where to Find a Flexible NEW Job.
This Q & A was adapted from a customer consultation, conducted by phone, with identifying details changed to protect the customer’s privacy. Request your custom consultation here.