Rule Four: Know What You’re Asking For
Decide beforehand exactly what you want your work life to look like and write it down. We’ve given you quite a few examples in this book of different women working different ways. There are literally thousands of schedule permutations. Before you put draw up your ideal, here are a few lifestyle issues to think of.
Do you need time with your children after school?
Do you want a regular morning every week to take a parent to the doctor?
Do you have family abroad and need more vacation time to visit them?
Do you simply hate putting on panty hose and a suit and long instead for the relaxed atmosphere of working from your kitchen table?
Do you have a bad commute? Could you save valuable hours by avoiding the morning rush hour and arriving late?
Go back to chapter 3 and take that Womenomics gut check test again—be clear about what you really want. Think through all the permutations and work out what suits your needs, while of course keeping your business’ requirements firmly in mind.
Now look at the schedule options.
The first question is: Do you want to work full time or part time? Here you need to work out whether yours is a job that could realistically shift from five days to four days, with that extra day really being “off.” If you can guarantee that your Fridays or Mondays, whichever day it is, will be undisturbed by work, and you can afford the pay cut, this can be a great option— and a particularly appealing one for your boss during a recession. But before you opt for the pay cut, calculate the risk that you may end up working that extra day anyway, even if you aren’t paid for it.
Beyond part time there are plenty of creative ways to squeeze a full-time job into fewer hours in the office. Would a full workweek compressed into fewer days (four times ten hours is a popular option) suit you? Would working from home for one, two, or three days a week cut down on commute time and leave you free for school pickup? Do you want to start supper early and leave the office every day at 3 p. m.—or never get in before midday but work until late at night?
Be flexible; you may initially think one arrangement is ideal but in time find something else works better. When Melissa James at Morgan Stanley went to her boss six years ago, she thought she wanted to work part-time. She suggested she’d like to work three days a week, and he was surprisingly open to that. They took some time and created an internal job for her that entailed less travel and client time. But over time, her responsibilities grew, she was enjoying her new role, and her viewpoint changed. “I was gaining an appreciation for the fact that what I needed in terms of workplace flexibility was not necessarily a quote-unquote ‘part time’ or ‘reduced’ work schedule, I needed more flexibility and control, which is what I think a lot of women in the workplace actually need these days. They don’t necessarily need to work part time, but they do need an ability to control their schedule to some degree.”
Now she’s back to a high-profile full-time gig, but it provides flexibility in terms of school events and other family obligations.
“You know it’s not always the best thing to be working three or four days,” Melissa maintains. “Sometimes it’s actually better to be working five days a week but to be able to be home or able to do something outside of work when you need to.”
And don’t be put off by a fusty corporate culture. You can make changes to your schedule even in the most rigid of companies. For energy executive Sarah Slusser, who has hired dozens of associates in her two-decade career and has seen changes in organizations not known for their modern attitudes, clarity, confidence, and commitment are the three essential Cs.
“If it’s not an enlightened organization, if it’s a place that has all these antiquated rules, and if you really want the flexibility that I think is necessary to raise a family properly, then I think you really need to do that personal assessment,” she says. “Everyone has a different need. I don’t think anyone’s is the same.
And then ask for it and live up to your commitments. You have to say, look I’m going to commit to these hours or get this kind of work done, but I need this kind of flexibility in exchange. If you live up to your commitments and you don’t over promise, then I think you gain a lot of credibility by addressing it up front instead of sneaking out every Friday because you need to pick up the kids.”
You do the analysis. Be both realistic and creative. See what would put the sanity back in your frazzled life. Now write it down.