In the first blog of this series, Returning to Work: Details and Dreams, we focused on identifying our responsibilities and prioritizing them according to our values. In Blog #2 of this series Returning to Work: Leveraging Your Village, we focused on how to get the things done on your list after going back to work. In this blog, we will focus on how to utilize your employer’s work-life programs and policies and how to communicate with your manager to figure out work arrangements that foster work-life success.
Taking advantage of corporate programs can be hugely helpful and worth exploring. In addition, companies may also have work-life policies to consider, including work from home options, part-time arrangements and other flexible work options. In many ways, however, the best way to find work-life balance at work is to have a supportive manager who respects your autonomy and lets you get your work done in the way that best utilizes your strengths and family responsibilities. Developing a healthy relationship with your manager is one of the best ways to achieve work-life balance and job satisfaction.
If you are a freelancer or self-employed?
This blog can also apply to you as it can provide you with a template for evaluating how to organize your time. How do you work best? How many hours should you work? Please use this lens as you read through the rest of the blog.
The good news is that many companies offer work-life programs—especially the larger companies. Often organizations partner with vendors like LifeCare, Harris Rothenberg International and Bright Horizons Family Solutions (to name a few) to provide a variety of family friendly services. If you have not done so already, familiarize yourself with your company’s family–friendly benefits. Programs can include (but are not limited to):
- Childcare – full-time and back-up
- Companies can provide on-site full-time care or partner with full-time childcare facilities located near the office.
- Back-up childcare is helpful for the occasional school holiday or when your nanny calls in sick and can be located on-site or at off-site affiliates
- Eldercare assistance
- On-site Gym
- On-site Wellness programs: nurses and doctors on-site, health screenings, flu shots
- Concierge services –these services can make life a little bit easier—e.g. on-site dry cleaning
- Homework help for your kids: homework help via the internet or by phone
- College Coaching: Assistance with the college search and application process
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): counseling services that are free and convenient
- On-site Lactation programs
- Mentoring programs and Parenting Groups—learn from other working parents
In addition to work-life programs, there are work-life policies to consider. Parental leave is a popular one in the news today with companies like Netflix announcing very generous policies. (Of course having a policy does not necessarily mean people feel safe to take it advantage of it—but that is for a separate blog.) Since you are returning to work, parental leave policies probably don’t apply to you so let’s focus on Flexible Work Arrangement (FWAs). FWAs are hugely helpful because standard work hours are not always ideal for real life. FWAs include:
- Part-time arrangements – involves working less than full-time so it is accompanied by a pay reduction
- FlexTime arrangements: flexibility with when you work
- FlexPlace: Working from home or from a satellite location
- Job Sharing: Creating a full-time schedule for one position with two employees
These arrangements can be negotiated during the job offer process, but they can also be arranged as needed. Sometimes it takes working a bit to realize you need an FWA and sometimes it takes being in the job to see whether an FWA is conducive to your job. You may even find that working an FWA is actually preferable for your job situation. For instance, if you work with clients in a different time zone.
Informal Work-life Options
Informal work-life options are an ideal solution to work-life issues. Things change constantly—a child gets sick, after school activities change, work is busy, work is not busy. It is great for all involved when you can work out arrangements with your manager on an as needed basis. Sometimes a particular project lends itself to telecommuting while a different project requires working late. How can you communicate with your boss to make things work for you?
Which Work-Life Resource Do You Need?
First you should ask, what do you want?
- Are there days you need to be home earlier due to carpools?
- Are there days you want to be home to volunteer?
- Do you want to go in later some mornings so you can bring your kids to school?
- Do you want to be home by 5:00 so you can help your kids with homework?
- Do you need one day off a week to tackle your errands, self-care, etc.?
- Do you need a day off a month to take an elderly parent to a medical treatment?
Now evaluate ways to meet the needs that you identify. Do you need to work from home some days? Do you need a part-time schedule? Do you want flexible hours (a full-time schedule but with modified work times)?
Communicating with Your Manager
The key to success with negotiating with your manager is to make it a conversation—not a negotiation. Come with a suggestion, but be open to modifying it. As a positive psychology coach, these are some things I recommend thinking about before your meeting:
- What are your strengths? Are those leveraged in your modified job responsibilities?
- Can you fill a need with your job change? For instance, can you volunteer to work late one day a week so you can work with West coast time zone and then come in late a different day?
I love exploring creative solutions to work-life dilemmas and I am pleasantly surprised by how often there are win/win situations. For instance, a client of mine was hoping to work fewer than 5 days a week, but she was not sure how to ask. After talking with her, we realized that her boss was in a difficult situation trying to give another employee more hours. By volunteering one of her days to her boss, her boss was ecstatic since she was able to give those hours to an employee who needed them. It was a win/win. My client was able to keep a job she loved and have improved work-life balance and her boss was grateful to have a work dilemma resolved.
Take some time now to evaluate your needs and your employer’s work options. Keep an open mind and be willing to experiment. Going back to work can be challenging, but there are resources out there to explore. Creativity and communication are keys leveraging organizational resources to enhance your work-life balance.