Before you exit the workforce out of sheer frustration, make sure there is not a way to find more work-life balance and keep your job–and your paycheck. Take a deep breath and read these 9 Lives for Women New Year’s tips for women who have one foot on the off ramp:
Don’t Give Up Your Job Too Quickly
- Think carefully about the difference between feeling guilty for family reasons and feeling truly unhappy with your job.
- Instead of considering work “feel guilty” time, put a positive spin on it and realize that it’s highly coveted “me time”.
- Don’t forsake future financial stability for current home concerns. Think hard before you give up your paycheck.
- If you think your child will suffer if you work, make a list of people you know that have had working mothers. Think about whether they seem less adjusted, less happy, less motivated or successful in school, etc. than the children of non-working mothers.
- Don’t consider leaving the workforce without thinking through how you will spend your days at home. You will still be the same person out of the workforce: know where you will find replacements for the energy, enthusiasm, motivation and intellectual stimulation you have in your current job.
- Don’t run from the workforce before you’ve exhausted all flexible options with your employer. One conversation is not a thorough exploration.
- Recognize that you may have to switch employers to find flexibility. Smaller companies are usually more flexible than big, bureaucratic ones.
- Try to find a way not to leave the workforce entirely—either through your current employer or a new one. Even freelance assignments that require only a few hours a week could make a future return to work easier.
- Remember that once you walk out the door, it may never be easy to walk back in.
Be Flexible about Flexibility
- Accept the fact that you probably will not ever find the exact work structure of your dreams.
- Recognize that there is no such thing as perfect work-life balance: seesaws are always uneven.
- Remember that the grass always seems greener on the other side: women experience self-doubt, stress, worry and burnout whether they are getting a paycheck or not.
- Plan your personal life around the ebb and flow of work. Manage your family’s expectations about how much they will see you during busy work periods.
- Consider ways to make work or home the high end of the work-life balance seesaw during different periods.
- Put yourself in your employer’s shoes and understand why flexibility has to work both ways.
- Realize that women have to work hard not only to earn promotions and increase compensation—but also to earn flexibility.
- Continually keep your own documentation of significant achievements and contributions so that it will be easy to communicate your value to your employer.
- Don’t assume that there’s not flexibility at your company. It’s often a perk granted quietly to women who have “earned it”.
- Encourage women you know to speak out about their flexible work arrangements and provide case studies others can follow.
- Do some research among friends to find out what kind of flexibility is working at their companies.
- Understand that flexibility is still something that you have to make happen: most companies do not hand out flexible opportunities.
- Approach your boss about flexibility when you’ve done your homework and you fully understand how flexibility can work for both you and your employer.
- Start with the assumption that all jobs can be done flexibly: give your employer the argument that the focus should be on results–not where, when or how work gets done.
- Propose that anything you do by yourself (i.e., paperwork, computer work) can easily be done at home. Determine how much solo work is in your job: if it’s 20% of your time you probably have a good argument to work one day at home.
- Plan your request for flexibility as thoroughly and professionally as a very caliber, high stakes proposal.
- Make a solid business case for flexibility–not an appeal for more family time.
- Address all the potential objections of your employer.
- If you’d like to switch to part-time, don’t let your employer tell you they have problems with part-timers. Chances are they have problems with full-timers, too.
Plan Your Return to Work Before You Leave the Workforce
- Know about how long you want to be out of the workforce—and that you will be considered a “current professional” for about two years after you leave.
- Determine how you can stay current in your industry and keep up with relevant technology.
- Plan to regularly stay in touch with colleagues.
Consider a Job Share to Gain More Work Flexibility
- Submit a job share proposal that is as buttoned up as one you would prepare to win substantial business from the most demanding and discerning on your client and prospect lists.
- Find a partner who has similar values, work ethics and goals.
- Understand your strengths and find a partner who “fills in your blanks”. Use an instrument like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator to assess individual “gifts” and determine your combined strengths as a team. This helps you divide work and communicate more effectively to clients and managers.
- If it’s possible to choose a boss, find one who will support and advocate your job share concept and think outside the traditional work box.
- Protect and honor the job share. Once clients, employees and bosses know they can’t play one against the other, you develop greater respect as a team.
- Decide if you can trust your job share partner to make decisions on your behalf. Once the decision is made, understand that you must fully support your partner even if you might not fully agree with the decision that was made.
- Don’t give any manager the opportunity to manage you separately. You should have joint performance appraisals and ask for the same raises and bonuses.
- Raise any problems you have with your job share partner as they happen so they don’t fester or become obvious to your colleagues. Managers don’t want to have to deal with any conflicts you experience as a team (just like they don’t want to know if you are having personal issues at home). Bringing up job share issues with your managers invites an “I told you it wouldn’t work!”
- Create a common name and email address so that neither job share partner is ever left off a communications list and colleagues consider you and your partner one seamless unit.
- Over communicate! Keep detailed logs that are visible to both partners on your days off. Schedule overlapping days and book time to catch each other up on projects.
- Manage any direct reports as a job share team. Give negative feedback and reviews as a team, and keep a joint file documenting any and all conversations with employees.
- Check your ego at the door. Put your job share team’s needs ahead of your own. You or your job share partner may have to share the spotlight. Support each other through good and bad times.
- Develop a plan on how to move forward as a team. Take at least a full day every year to evaluate what is and is not working. –KAS
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