Why Making a Plan and Talking to Your Boss About Flex is Critical

by Chrysula on April 1, 2011 in asking,defining,listening,parenting,planning,work life balance

Is it any wonder some in the traditional workforce throw their hands up in the air?

The Work Life Dilemma

Our increasing hunger for work life policy reform has been thrown into sharp relief for me via my friend Lisa’s recent childcare conundrums. A few weeks ago she started a brand new job. No sick leave, no health care benefits, but a decent position and one that is essential for her family.

The week she started (only finding out the Friday before that she’d got the job), our entire school district headed into 3-4 days (depending on the grade) of half days for parent-teacher conferences. The district does this twice a year. As local child care providers are in great demand those weeks, I became her last minute back-up plan. My husband and I work from home and had already adjusted our schedules and prepared in advance to manage our own family. Even so, it was a total pain. And few families are as lucky as ours.

In addition, Lisa’s new job has about a 30-45 min window between when the children get off the bus and when she gets home. Her first sitter reneged after a few days. Another carer injured herself one day after starting. To further complicate this week, one of her children got sick and had a day and a half out of class.

My friend is week three into her new job. Remember, no sick leave. And scrambling for a new sitter for the third time in as many weeks. Is it any wonder some in the traditional workforce throw their hands up in the air?

Wise organizations who structure flexible work practices as a universally available option do much to eliminate those kinds of divisive tensions.

The usual arguments pour in. “Parents can’t be relied upon in the workforce” (only we all know that’s code for “mothers”, because the stigmas simply are not present for fathers. And by the way when was the last time you heard the phrase “working dad”?). There is my personal favorite, “If you have kids, why should the rest of us have to pick up the slack when they are sick or it’s the school play.” I get it. I truly do. But those without children need and want flexibility too. There’s the dentist, or caring for a sick family member (elder care anyone?) or pursuing additional education or simply going for a hike one sunny afternoon to recharge your batteries for that big project you have going. Wise organizations who structure flexible work practices as a universally available option do much to eliminate those kinds of divisive tensions.

Make Your Case!

Finally, Lisa was able to sit down with her boss and have a frank conversation about all of this. She laid the issues out on the table. She made sure her boss understands her commitment and work ethic, and her willingness to do the job. She’s not asking to work less. Just with a little flexibility and understanding. She also freely admitted there are going to be more days like these. Together the two of them were able to come to an understanding and they are working on a way forward.

All of the work life commentary tells you that you request flexibility after you’ve been employed for a while and demonstrated your worth to the organization. I agree. But strep throat and parent teacher half days will still come, no matter how long you’ve been in the position.

Your best bet is to perform well from day one. And with confidence and transparency, always stressing your contribution to the organization and sticking to your commitments, make a plan and talk to your boss as early as you possibly can. It can be frightening, especially as we barely emerge from the Great Recession in what remains so far, a jobless recovery. However, there is hope.

Change is Coming (and is already here)

Flexible work practices are not going away. There is real momentum building and a sense of urgency. This is not a wrinkle in the zeitgeist.

Related Links:

The White House is getting deeper into the conversation via the Department of Labor’s National Dialogue on Workplace Flexibility.

A great summary of current research on the business case for flexibility via Parent Dish blogger Katherine Stone.

My post for Corporate Voices for Working Families on why work life flexibility must be in the national spotlight (and why this isn’t just about mothers).

For tips for organizations and employees on structuring a flexible workplace agreement, go here to the Families and Work Institute.

Read Cali Yost’s book Work + Life, Finding the Fit That’s Right for You.

If you need to develop a plan to present to your workplace for greater workplace flexibility, I would love to support you! Contact me here.

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{ 2 comments }

Diana Antholis April 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Hi Chrysula,
As you know, I do not have children, but I feel for your friend. My argument has always been that flexibility should be for everyone – whether you are a parent or not. I love that your friend had a meeting with her boss about flexibility. There will never be a good time – so why wait? As long as you continuously prove yourself and the schedule you commit to, employers should allow for flexibility – especially during rough times.
Everyone needs to have conversations like that – no matter what age. It’s time to stop complaining and start doing.
Thank you for the wonderful resources in this post as well!
I hope you are fantastic.
Diana

Diana Antholis April 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Hi Chrysula,
As you know, I do not have children, but I feel for your friend. My argument has always been that flexibility should be for everyone – whether you are a parent or not. I love that your friend had a meeting with her boss about flexibility. There will never be a good time – so why wait? As long as you continuously prove yourself and the schedule you commit to, employers should allow for flexibility – especially during rough times.
Everyone needs to have conversations like that – no matter what age. It’s time to stop complaining and start doing.
Thank you for the wonderful resources in this post as well!
I hope you are fantastic.
Diana

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