Woman First

5 Steps To Customize Your Work Day

by Jeannette Moninger

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could work for one of the 100 best family-friendly companies listed annually by Working Mother magazine? Working parents wouldn’t have to worry about who will watch the kids if they’re too sick for daycare, or how to get Jake to his next doctor’s appointment, or missing yet another of Lily’s school parties.

Their companies’ family-friendly work policies would alleviate that stress, making for better work and home environments. Alas, although studies show family-friendly policies save money, boost employee retention and create a happier work environment, they are far from the norm.

That doesn’t mean there’s no room for negotiation. If you’ve been thinking that you could be a better employee, mother, wife and person if only you had more flexible hours, part-time hours or a job shared with a co-worker, but you weren’t sure how to propose an alternative work arrangement, let the following steps serve as your guide.

1. Do your homework. Elizabeth Wilcox, author of The Mom Economy: The Mother’s Guide to Getting Family-Friendly Work (Penguin Books, $14), says research is key and recommends first checking to see if anyone in your company has pursued a similar arrangement to the one you’re seeking.

If so, find out what challenges and hurdles she faced in implementing and managing her arrangements. Research your company’s policies, as well as the industry at-large, to determine the most common or viable arrangements in your field.

2. Ask yourself some questions. Wilcox recommends next taking a hard look at your job responsibilities and skills set. Determine what tasks you can do alone, which ones are collaborative and how accessible you need to be to clients. You’ll also want to consider what tasks you might have to relinquish and the impact that could have on your career.

Shelley MacDermid, director of the Center for Families at Purdue University, notes that while an alternative work arrangement sometimes can slow career progress, it doesn’t completely rule out opportunities for advancement. “Employees who aren’t as visible in the office, such as part-timers or telecommuters need to keep a sharp eye out for challenging assignments or they risk getting passed over,” says MacDermid.

3. Decide on your desired work arrangement. Reviewing job tasks and skills will give you a better idea of which of the following arrangements are best suited for your company and you.

Job sharing. In this arrangement, two people share job responsibilities, either by splitting the week (one person works 2 days, the other 3, then vice versa); splitting the day (one works in the mornings, the other in the afternoons); or by having one person work one full week, then taking the next week off. The structure of job sharing makes it easier for a parent to schedule personal appointments and school meetings on off days. However, you might not be eligible for company benefits such as health insurance.

Part time. Simply put, this means working fewer hours either by reducing your hours each day or by working fewer days each week. Because you’ll know in advance the hours and days you’re required to work, this arrangement, like job sharing, makes it easy to schedule outside appointments and activities. Keep in mind, though, that part-time employees often are not eligible for company benefits.

Flexible hours. With flextime, employers and employees negotiate work hours that are advantageous to both, taking into account the need to have staff on-hand during critical “peak” work hours. This arrangement gives an employee more control over her day-to-day start and stop times, which can come in handy if it’s your turn to carpool the kids to school for the week, or you know you want to leave work early in time to catch your son’s school pageant.

Telecommuting. Thanks to computers, more people are able to do office work from remote locations. You must be able to connect with your company’s server in order for this option to work. Be aware that you might need to arrange for child care even though you’re at home, but you won’t have to worry about getting stuck in rush-hour traffic.

Compressed work week. By working 10 hours per day versus 8 hours, some employees squeeze a 40-hour work week into 4 days, then take the fifth day off. Another option is to work 80 hours (the equivalent of two full work weeks) in 9 days and take the 10th day off. This option is great for parents who want to enjoy longer weekends with their kids and can schedule appointments on their off days.

4. Include an evaluation process. Organizations are in a constant state of flux, which means your arrangement needs to be flexible too. To ensure your negotiated schedule is working, Wilcox suggests starting off on a trial basis with a review scheduled after the first two months.
MacDermid recommends an ongoing review with coworkers. “A lot of times the boss and employee might be happy, but co-workers feel like more work is landing on their plates and they’re not happy about it,” says MacDermid. Unhappy co-workers could spell the end to your arrangement.

5. Make a formal request. A formal request and subsequent agreement provide structure, establish execution guidelines, and with your supervisor’s signature, show that your arrangement has been deemed viable. Wilcox, whose book provides a template for making such proposals, suggests framing your request in a way that puts your company’s interest up front and shows your commitment to the company.

For example, you can assert that clients in different time zones will be better served by your ability to arrive early or work later, depending on your arrangement and their
locations.

If no one else in your organization has proposed an alternative work arrangement, being the first can be intimidating. Your supervisor might worry that granting your request will open the floodgates for others, but research shows this concern is unfounded, says MacDermid. It never hurts to ask.

Jeannette Moninger is a freelance writer.