How to best negotiate new schedule after maternity leave?
October 21, 2011 4:57 PM   Subscribe

I'd love to get advice on how to negotiate returning to work 4 days a week instead of 5 following maternity leave.

My situation is complicated (or seems that way to me) by the fact that I may also be advocating for a promotion. Six months prior to my leave, my boss was laid off and I took on a number of additional responsibilities. My current boss and the head of my department indicated that he wanted to give me a promotion for this additional
work. This did not happen before I began my leave, however, and I have since learned that another colleague has been given the same title as my previous boss, although I do not know whether the job description has changed.

I need to start by determining my job responsibilities with my boss. My question is when do I bring up the fact that I only want to work 4 days a week? Based on past experience with the organization, working 4 days a week is not likely to change my job description; rather I will be expected to get the work done in 4 days rather than 5. For that reason, I am somewhat hesitant to take a cut in salary, but my highest priority is more time with my son. Officially woking from home one day a week is almost certainly not an option based on precedent (though I will ask).

Other things that might be helpful to know about the situation:
I work for an art museum
My greatest leverage is the excellent relationships I have with many donors
I have been at the museum and in the same position for 4 years

Many thanks for your thoughts and advice!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are 2 ways to make this okay for your employer: you negotiate for a 4/10 (4 days a week for 10 hours a day) or for a 1/5th salary reduction and only work a 4/8.

If you're writing this during your maternity leave, I want to warn you that there may be challenges with your idea - many childcare providers aren't cool with 4 day work weeks - centers would rather give spot to a 5 day a weeker and nannies want to be fulltime.

And if you pull a 4/10, you'll leave early and come home late most nights. Can your partner swing getting kiddo to and from daycare and do all the morning and evening hustle without you? (It is a ton of work - food and bottle prep, bags of clothes and diapers... Dressing kid...)

And if you went to 32 hours a week - do you still qualify for benefits? Would you occasionally have to come in on your off day for meetings and have to scramble for childcare? If kid was sick was that your 'day' off?

Working from home is doable for awhile, but once kid is older is next to impossible to do 100% of a work day with an attention-sucking baby.

All-in-all, I think this could work, but I'd try (if you haven't already) to do your old schedule first and see how you manage.

My advice to all new working moms is to outsource as much as you can - housecleaners, cooking, etc. - to free up time for little one, FWIW.

Memail me if you want to chat.
posted by k8t at 5:46 PM on October 21, 2011

This sounds similar to what I attempted when I was ready to come back from maternity leave -- unsuccessfully. (I was in a similar position with a recent promotion, boss who left, etc.) I was turned down when proposing 4 10s b/c "it wouldn't look right." Basically, you have to figure out a way that it benefits your institution; I couldn't convince my newly-quit boss' boss that my being at work 4 days a week instead of 5 would be doing them any favors. (& I certainly couldn't tell her that I could do all my work in 4 days -- easily -- whether they were 10hr days or not!)

I've gotta say that, with the benefit of hindsight, I agree with k8t that 4 10s is ROUGH! I occasionally work 10hr days now & it screws up the whole routine of what happens in the morning before work & what happens in the evening after work, plus I do feel bad about having those days where I see the kid for maybe an hour tops before she goes to bed.

Anyway, if you're looking more for advice on timing of when to ask -- sooner rather than later, so any process changes that might need to be implemented can be dealt with maybe while you're out, or can at least be somewhat thought out before you go back to work! Good luck!
posted by oh really at 7:37 PM on October 21, 2011

I knew when I went on maternity leave that I probably didn't want to go back full time. But I also thought it was going to be awkward to negotiate tht while on maternity leave. So here is how it worked for me: return to work, ease back in (first couple weeks, leaving early, which was fine because I hadn't really ramped back up yet). Try hard to do what is expected of me for three months, can't quite do it. Go to hr, ask to go down to four days, get told to try it for another month first. Do that, still hate it, go back.

The advantage of this was two fold: my employer believed that I had tried hard to make full time work and respected my efforts and by the time I went back to them the second time, I was complete prepared to quit rather than continue to work full time and they knew it. They didn't want to lose me, so we worked it out. It sounds like you might have that advantage as well given your situation with donors.

It also meant that I had a better way to plan when I asked for part time-I. Knew what I needed and what they needed to get done, which had changed while I was on leave.

Congrats. And good luck. If you would like erode details, feel free to mail.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:42 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, I am not on maternity leave and I work in a totally different field so my experience may not translate to yours. However, for whatever it's worth, here it is:

During the past two years while I was in a teaching credential/MA program (at age 42-44), I've been doing part-time project mgmt/editor/writer contract/freelance work for a friend who works in corporate America. Long story short: I have a ton of web/software/video/organizational producer skills and experience, and she and I have worked together (in the corporate and agency worlds), and have been very close friends, for almost 20 years. When I graduated a few months ago, her boss pressured me to take a position with their firm permanently. For various reasons, I want a steady gig not in my (new) field right now so the offer was tempting. We discussed, and I laid out what I wanted: 1) my value is evaluated on what I deliver and not when I'm in the office; 2) I'll commit to being in the office, for varying amounts of time four days x week, i.e., Tue-Fri, 3) I'm a freelancer on a long-term contract. 4) I can take off whenever I want for as long as I want as long as I deliver on my projects.

Everyone agreed and (as of this writing!) it's working out great. Bottom line: if you pitch yourself and your work in terms of what you can do/deliver (vs. when you're in the office) you may have a better sell.

Good luck!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 9:41 PM on October 21, 2011

I've worked at two places where there were provisions in the contract for parents to do a gradual return to work when they came back from parental leave. It's a way to recognize that ramping back up to full time work is hard and doing it when you have to devise a whole new routine that takes a whole other person into account increases the difficulty enormously. At one place, you could go as low as three days a week, and stretch the return to as long as six months, I think. (It might have been three.)

Maybe you could propose something along this model for your return to work. It's kind of the reverse of what dpx.mfx is suggesting upthread; the advantages are that it actually will make your return smoother, it will be viewed as a temporary thing to your bosses and so they might be more wiling to try it, and after the time period is up, if everything is going peachy keen, it should be easier to convince them to continue.

A promotion usually entails work that is more complex and has more responsibility, but that shouldn't necessarily mean that it takes more hours. Presumably you are more capable, and therefore more efficient, or they shouldn't be promoting you. I realize this may only be true in the idealized version of the world that exists in my head. Working fewer hours, though, is going to result in lower pay pretty much everywhere, no?

As for timing, I would suggest the gradual return as soon as I began talking about the job requirements with the new boss.

And, as for working from home when the kid is home, too, my experience is that works out badly for you both as a worker and as a mom. Your divided attention means you end up feeling like nothing is being done right.
posted by looli at 11:20 PM on October 21, 2011

When I returned to work, I negotiated a 30 hour week schedule that felt more like half-time. I worked 7:30 to 12:30 four days a week and 7:30 to 6:00 pm (with a 30 min lunch that day) for the the fifth day. My husband took the kid to work in the morning and once a week he had to get out of work on time to do pick up. The rest of week I picked up the kid at 1:00 and then had lunch at home. Another advantage was that people were used to me leaving at 12:30 so no one called me in the afternoon on my long day and I could use to get caught up on stuff. (note - we paid for full time day care to make this work). So the suggestion is to see if you and your husband can offset your schedules and/or alternate short and long days to get a better experience.
posted by metahawk at 12:18 PM on October 22, 2011

Tim Ferriss has a ton of advice on this in 4-Hour Workweek, including actual scripts you can use with your boss and anecdotes from folks who have done it.
posted by zanni at 8:44 AM on October 25, 2011

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