flexible schedule

Dear Bossy 8: I want to work part-time, should I?

Dear Bossy

I’m feeling overwhelmed. I have 2 young kids (both under 5) and both my partner and I work full-time. I feel stressed out and just under water all the time. My kids are in daycare and we can afford them to be there, but I just don’t know if I can keep it all up.

So we’ve been talking about me cutting back to part-time. My partner is a lawyer and works a lot. I work in marketing. I’ve been thinking about cutting back to maybe 3 days a week. But I’m not sure. I’m worried about the money, whether my company would even let me do it and if it will hurt my career in the long run. How do I think about this decision?

Thanks for your advice.

Pondering Part-time

Dear Pondering Part-time

I hear you. Most parents of young children feel exactly how you feel, no matter the financial or work situation. Young kids are a ton of work and the demands of career, parenting, self-care, caring for your relationship, it all can feel like too much. So first - take a deep breath (or maybe several) and realize that this is stage of your life that won’t last forever and thinking about it more like a stage and not a long-term life choice can help you focus on making a good decision for right now.

Let’s break apart your question into a few parts to think about those more clearly:

  1. Can you afford to cut back your hours/pay and still make ends meet? From your letter, it seems like you can. But that is probably high on the list of things to evaluate with your partner. Calculate the savings on childcare, the pay reduction, how this will impact benefits - if you work less than a certain number of hours, you may lose benefits, so figure out what those are at your company (21 hours is often the minimum). You may find there is a breaking point where it doesn’t work, so if you cut back too much you may not be able to make it work. Figure out what that is, because that is what you are going to ask for at work.

  2. What is your ideal schedule? This can be tough, because it depends on your childcare situation (can they go half days, can they go only some days). Figure out what is do-able with your childcare situation and make an ideal schedule. That may mean working every day, but leaving early or taking some days completely off work. Map out a few options for your part-time schedule, because your boss and company will have some needs as well and the more flexibility you have here, the better.

  3. How supportive will your workplace and your boss be? This is a big one. If you are going to make this work, you need to be supported by your team, company and boss. Do other people work part-time? Will you be the only or the first? Is there a policy to support this? If you feel like the company and your boss will be supportive, great. If not, you will need to prepare for a negotiation. Flexible schedules are good for all working families. You can use your own negotiation to make a great family friendly workplace and policy. Gather as much information as you can about flexible schedules, other companies policies, etc. and go in prepared to make a great case for why this is good for you and for the company.

  4. Will it hurt your career? Life is long, your career is long. Your kids are only this age once. There are many ways to have a career and family and no right way. Cutting back your hours has an impact on your pay now, but doesn’t have to hurt your career long term. Stay engaged at work, be present and productive when you are there, and set boundaries when you aren’t. If you are able to juggle work and family better by being part-time, it will show in your results at work and quality time with family. It may be temporary until the kids are older or you may find that you need that balance in your life. Give yourself permission to change some things to make the juggle easier. The other caution I’d give you is that it really is up to you to hold the line on your time off and not work while you are not working. You are not being paid for that time and it is really the worst outcome for you if you end up working the same amount of time while being paid less. Set your boundaries and be clear.

Here are 2 anecdotes I’ll share from women I know who have worked part time.

My friend worked 4 days a week and on her day off had no childcare. Any time anyone at work asked if she could attend a meeting or dial into a work call on her day off, she made it clear she had no childcare and it would cost her money to get that childcare, so most of the time people understood and kept meetings to her work days. Another friend, a lawyer, had a very demanding client who wanted something turned around over the weekend. The Partner at the firm explained to the client that if they wanted the work turned around during time this woman was supposed to be off and with family that they would be billed for her nanny. The client agreed.

Do what is right for your family right now. It may be just the thing you need to be more balanced and feel more successful at all things.

Good luck!

Dear Bossy

Have a question for Dear Bossy - write to me at elizabeth@negotiatingatwork.com