Monday, June 16, 2008

A Flexible Schedule: How to Make it Yours

Work-Life Balance, is there really such a thing? I’m not sure, but I know that most mothers working professionally outside the home are chasing it. My own empirical evidence shows that the degree of success that these working moms achieve depends on the level of flexibility in the workplace.

According to a recent Pew Research Center Poll (“The Part Time Ideal” 2007) 60% of women surveyed believe that a part-time professional position yields the greatest work-life balance, and that’s up from 48% ten years ago. But how eager are employers, who consistently demand more of our time and energy than ever before, willing to embrace an employee’s flexible schedule?

The upside is clear. Women (and men!) with flexible schedules are able to come close to having it all: being the best parent they know how to be while maintaining an upwardly mobile career path. To go from the board room to the soccer field on any given day, or to be able to skip out of the office to chaperone a kindergarten field trip to the zoo without a BlackBerry in hand is every working mother’s dream. And study after study show that working mothers are equally productive (or more!) than their non-parent colleagues and that the allowance for flexibility builds loyalty that fosters retention, and ultimately improves the bottom line.

Here‘s how to convince your employer to allow a flexible schedule:

  • Emphasize the Bottom Line: It costs an organization an average of one-and-a-half times an employee’s average salary to recruit, staff and train a replacement. With attrition costs that high, it makes business sense for an organization to retain women as they need to ramp up and down along their career arc.
  • Embrace the Precedent: Some employers are reluctant to accommodate that first flex-scheduling trailblazer because of the precedent it will set. Counter the “well everyone will want to work part-time” mentality by embracing the precedent. In order to remain competitive, organizations must attract and retain professional women as they juggle children and elder care responsibilities. By marketing your organization as a flexible work environment, your company will be able to attract the best and brightest talent on the street.
  • Write a Plan: Outline how you will accomplish all of your tasks and retain your role without shirking responsibilities on co-workers; you’ll need their buy-in to make this work. Explicitly address anticipated concerns (see below) with creative solutions, and be willing to give and take a little. You’re getting the flexibility you desire, what are you willing to give up in return?
  • Counter the Cons: Anticipate your employers concerns against this arrangement and have a solution ready. Will your boss be concerned she can’t reach you with an urgent question during your “off” hours? Agree to be reachable via cell phone for emergencies only, but that you will gladly check in via email from 8 – 9 PM.
  • Propose a No-Risk Trial Period: Managers are often more comfortable agreeing to something new for say, 90 days, rather than a permanent solution. Offer to go back to the original work agreement if the flexible arrangement isn’t working for any reason. Have a check-in with your manager at 30-day increments, noting accomplishments against your “Flexibility Plan” and highlight how you’ve addressed your manager’s initial concerns.

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