In all my experience coaching women, no one has ever told me that they left the workforce because they hated working. Most women say they left because once they had a family they couldn’t make work work.
If you’re a mother who is working 60+ hours in your employer’s office each week, commuting and bringing home work on the evenings and weekends, you probably have many days that you feel at your breaking point. Add in travel and you may feel like you’re running in circles with your hair on fire. It’s no cinch to juggle work and family—but before you exit the work force, make sure that you have exhausted every possible flexible option with your employer. You can’t instantly return to the job or the level that you left, so you shouldn’t run off before considering both your long-term and short-term needs and interests.
Over the last decade I haven’t seen a huge surge in flexible work arrangements—except for women who have proven themselves at a company. Once an employer knows your work ethic and the quality of your output, they are much more apt to let you work at home part of the time, scale back to part-time, switch you to independent consultant status or even create a job share.
I have a friend who is the CEO of a New York City media company who told me in 2002 that she would absolutely never hire a woman who would not commit to full-time in the office. Recently I learned that things have changed: one woman works for her from Florida, several others work both at home and in the office and others simply work part time. Her caveat is what I mentioned earlier: she’ll offer this to women who have proven themselves, not to new hires.
My best advice is this: don’t give up too soon. First assume that there IS a way to make flexibility work for both you and your employer. Talk to other women who have flexible arrangements at your own and other companies. Give your employer a well thought out proposal of how you would structure your new work arrangements. And consider all the pitfalls and potential objections.
Pitfall #1 is the full-time, part-time job. Many women sign on for a part-time schedule and salary and actually end up working full-time at half-time pay. Rather than agreeing to a 20-hour a week schedule, ask your employer if they would be willing to pay you on an hourly basis. That’s what a senior-level headhunter did when she found that she was not being compensated for all of her “part-time” hours. Her prominent employer agreed—and they are both very happy. Some weeks she works 20 hours and when she is needed she works many more—but she never runs the risk of “donating” her time.
This woman knows that her situation works because she and her employer have an easy give and take. She’s a professional, and she knows that business is business. You can’t always compartmentalize work into the three days you’ve designated as your part-time schedule. Let your employer know that you would be willing to adjust your schedule for special meetings or work extra hours on a deadline. Tell them that you can always be reached when there are matters that can’t wait for your days in the office.
Sure, it would be great if you could work out a deal with your employer that would allow you to truly “turn your head off” on the days you’re not in the office. But giving your employer the comfort level that you’re willing to bend could mean that you can change diapers and corporate history at the same time.
- Don’t run from the workforce before you’ve exhausted all flexible options with your employer.
- Don’t just have a conversation: create a professional proposal that addresses all the possible reasons flexibility would be denied.
- Remember that once you walk out the door, it may never be easy to walk back in.