I’m writing this post with a dear friend in mind, but she’s actually lots of mums I’ve met who are on maternity leave from their jobs and thinking about how they will return to work when the time comes. She needs and wants to work but she also feels she can’t go back to her full-time role now that she has her beautiful baby girl.
Let me tell you about her
My friend is a talented graphic designer and she loves her job. But she doesn’t feel comfortable with full-time long daycare for her 11-month-old, Emma just yet. The problem is though, her old job and the one that’s open to her now to return to, is five days a week in the office. With family finances at an all-time low (surviving on one income for so long!), not going back to work just simply isn’t an option either.
What she’d love
“A part-time position, ideally three days a week, that lets me accept a two-day family daycare care spot and take Emma’s grandma up on her offer of minding her one day a week,” she tells me.
“I’d also love it if my boss would be open to me working from home occasionally, or doing some odd hours, say when Emma’s sleeping, for those times when she or her carers gets sick.”
So what to do?
What my friend wants and feels she needs is a little flexibility at work. She knows she’s entitled under workplace laws to request flexibility, but she also knows her company do not have to offer her a part-time role, or any of the other things she feels will help her manage motherhood and work better.
I spoke to Natalie Goldman, CEO of FlexCareers, a flexible jobs board, about how my friend and anyone else in the same boat, can put her best foot forward when approaching the boss for flexibility at work.
How to talk to your boss about working flexibly
1. Have the flexibility chat BEFORE going on maternity leave
Natalie tells me that in an ideal situation, we would actually discuss what our return to work after having a baby might look like even before taking parental leave from our jobs. But she advises we don’t commit to anything straight up.
“Don’t say, ‘I want to work three days a week or four days,'” she says, explaining that situations and feelings may radically change after we’ve had our baby.
2. Stay in touch
Natalie strongly advises we stay in touch with our workplace while on maternity leave and try to find ways to ‘connect in’ with our manager. This may include casual meetings, workplace socials, or popping into the office to say hello.
“Staying in touch with your manager whilst you’ve been on parental leave means that you would have started to form an idea of what your return to work might look like, what might be realistic or what type of caring you have available,” says Natalie.
3. Be enthusiastic about going back
While you may be feeling all churned up about leaving your baby to return to work, Natalie says it’s important that while negotiating your wants and needs, that you also communicate your enthusiasm for the job.
Natalie suggests saying something like, “I’m really excited about coming back to work and starting to negotiate what that might look like,” is a positive way to start off the conversation.
4. Be realistic and set out parameters
While you may want to work three days a week from home, your manager may expect you to attend a staff meeting in the office and meet with clients on two of those days, so this may not be realistic. You may also be constrained by what days you can offer because of childcare arrangements.
“Think about the parameters you’re able to work with,” says Natalie.
5. Prepare to negotiate
Natalie says any conversation you have with your boss about flexibility needs to be treated as a negotiation.
“It’s not just going in and saying, ‘I want to work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, these are my hours, take it or leave it.” It needs to literally be a negotiation. So you need to go in with a very clear idea and understanding of the things that you need, what are the deal breakers and what are the things that you’re prepared to negotiate on,” she says. “For example, if you know that you’ve got four days of day care available to you and you’re going back three days a week, you might then be able to negotiate which days.”
6. Be open to future change
Natalie also advises that we should be open to renegotiating down the track as our little ones grow and their needs and schedules change. She explains that what might be good for us now, may not be in six to 12 months time.
She points out that a change from family daycare to long daycare could result in more working hours being available, or if your partner becomes the primary carer, you may want and need to work full-time.
“You don’t want to lock yourself into anything too much, it needs to be a continuous negotiation and adjustment to best suit all parties.”
Natalie adds that being flexible about working flexibly is really the key.
“Whatever the arrangement looks like, it needs to be workable not just for the individual, but for the company. At the end of the day, it’s a two-way street.”
7. Suggest a trial period
If your employer is a little reluctant to shake things up, Natalie suggests offering a trial period.
“Say, ‘Let’s just give it a go. You know me, I’ve worked hard, I’m a good employee,'” adding it’s a good idea to have some KPIs to back you.
“Saying in the next three months this is what it’s going to look like, these will be the check ins and it’s about proving to them that it can actually be done,” she says.
8. Look for examples of it working
Whatever you are wanting to do, be it reduce your hours, job share, work from home or structure your start and finish times, Natalie suggests you look for examples of success within the business and share this with your boss.
“Look for people who have done the same thing. So who else has come back from mat leave and done what you’re wanting to do?”
If you can’t think of anyone, Natalie suggests looking beyond the company to clients or other people your boss may interact with within her business network.
“If she knows of someone who has done it, she’ll be more likely to say yes.”