Dear Pat: I work full-time as an escrow officer for a title insurance company. The demands of my job and the commute leave me little time for my husband and two pre-school kids. I’m about to propose a three-day workweek to my manager. Should I mention “family” as the reason I want a more flexible work schedule? If not, what do I say if she asks about my reasons? ~ Overwhelmed in Ohio
Dear Overwhelmed: My email folders are filled with story after story from working moms and their work-family conflict. There’s no hiding it; the motivation behind most parents’ request for flexible work is wanting more time for their families. (This was also my motivation for starting WorkOptions in 1993. Since then, men are more readily admitting they want flexible work, too.)
For many parents, part-time arrangements, which include job sharing, make juggling career and family more manageable. So your motivation is valid, but don’t get personal, and don’t mention “family.”
Instead, your proposal must be an objective business presentation written with the employer’s perspective in mind. In other words, you must appeal to the interests of your manager and the bottom-line concerns of your employer even though your interests are closer to heart and home. (This approach applies to anyone making the request, parent or not, and whatever the reason for wanting reduced hours.)
Here’s the strategy to use: Bypass the “reason why” issue related to your flexible work request; the merits or the approval of your proposal should not hinge on the why—for you or anyone else. Cut straight to answering the question most likely to arise in your manager’s mind: “Exactly how will your work get done under the new schedule?”
Focus on your job responsibilities. Determine which core tasks you’ll retain in your three-day workweek. Outline how certain functions could be delegated to a junior employee for her career development.
Suggest how other job functions might be shifted to another department, modified or out-sourced. Are there some that could even be eliminated?
Outline how—or if—you can be reached on your days off. If you decide to be accessible by cell phone, for example, will you be available routinely or for emergencies only? (Hint: be sure “emergency” is well-defined.)
Your proposal needs to include the bottom-line spin: Working part-time is a cost-saving way for your manager to retain your training and experience as you increase your on-the-job concentration and energy.
If your manager asks why you want to a reduced workweek, be prepared with an unwavering answer. Here’s a scripted reply from the Part-time Proposal Package you can use: “I really like my professional role here; I am dedicated to my work, to [employer name], and I want to stay. I also have outside responsibilities that require my attention. Having more flexibility with my schedule for is a workable solution to meet [employer name] and individual needs. Shall we give it a fair trial so I can demonstrate the pay-offs for both of us?”
Notice the soft term of “family” was implied but not mentioned outright. Though our families rank tops in our hearts and minds, by keeping the personal issues out of your business proposition—which is how you should view your request for a flexible work arrangement—you are more likely to get it approved.