Less work, more play
November 15, 2011 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone working fulltime under a manager negotiated a cut in their work hours, from the standard 40-hr work week to 30-32 hours? (But not due to childcare or other specific family/personal constraints, just for wanting more free time.)

Looking to become time richer, money poorer. I'm a mechanical engineer at a fairly typical engineering company on salary, and wondering about the feasibility of this. Having a four-day work week, with commensurate pay, would appeal to me. Has anyone else done this? Anything I should worry about, possibly related to losing full-time benefits?
posted by mnemonic to Work & Money (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe this is naive, but couldn't you propose this as a creative alternative to a raise the next time performance reviews roll around? Basically, the concept is the same: greater pay per hour. Just cutting the denominator instead of increasing the numerator.

Personally, I think it's a great idea. Go for it, and let us know how it turns out.
posted by keasby at 6:03 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

What type of engineer?

Here in San Diego, it's pretty common for engineering firms to close Fridays at 11am. Not sure if that's the case everywhere, but lot of engineering types have Friday afternoons off. You'd really only be asking to take some extra time off on Friday mornings.
posted by 26.2 at 6:09 PM on November 15, 2011

I've done this before, twice. Both times I went from a straight 5 d/wk to 4 d/wk. I was comfortable with my lifestyle I thought I wanted more time. I found that the environment and my personality conspired to have me work the 40+ hours (or 5 d/wk) regardless of the arrangements, I was there most Fridays at least until 1 or 2 usually later, but I was only getting 4/5th of the pay.

Be sure that you can 'walk away' on that Friday when the rest of your colleagues are working. Consider your career aspirations in that company and how that unconnected time may play?

I am all for more trading my money for more time, but I also know myself a LOT better now. Now I negotiate more vacation time instead, I can deal much better with longer stretches of unconnected time.
posted by njk at 6:17 PM on November 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

I believe it would go over better if you offered to take a pay cut in exchange for working from home 2 days a week. Hopefully that would save you ~8 hours of commute time and useless meetings. I know several people who have done this.

You really don't want to seem like a special snowflake, or for your coworkers to think you're lazy. You need some kind of tacit agreement to get paid less and work less without actually saying it out loud.

Also, it might be possible to have a bogus "reason" that you can cite to your colleagues for working less. Can you enroll in a master's in underwater basketweaving, or maybe use some of your time to volunteer for a cause that is worthy and non-objectionable? Or, if you're evil, invent a sick relative. Or have a kid.
posted by miyabo at 6:24 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you want to reduce both your hours and your pay. There are a couple other alternatives to consider:

1 - Work an additional hour every day, and get every other Friday off.
2 - Work an additional two hours every day, and get every Friday off.

Both might be more tolerable to management. In both cases, you're doing the same amount of work, but shifting when your free time occurs to give you larger blocks of time. As a benefit to you, you should be able to keep your same salary under both models - no need for a pay cut.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:29 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Something Mr. Meat brought up when I wanted to do this - you might be first on the chopping block if layoffs come about. As in, you've already indicated that you're not super interested in a full time job, and they might think you're half out the door. (Note: I still work full time.)
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:48 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Look at your company's HR policies--they should lay out what they consider full-time for benefits purposes. That doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to reduce your hours, but it will give you a starting point.
posted by elizeh at 6:50 PM on November 15, 2011

I was able to successfully negotiate this with two different companies for the same reason - trying to finish my degree (which is still not finished, I might add) which was related to both workplaces.

At each company I had been there for 5+ years so I had the seniority and great work record to ask for it. At the time of the paring down, my workplace was looking to reduce costs, so it was easy to make a financial case for it. It also helped that both workplaces had VPNs and webmail, so I could telecommute.

My co-workers were fine with it and not seemingly jealous at all. The biggest thing was that people would often forget why I wasn't at work.

The second time I pared down my hours, I did have my benefits reduced by 20%, which was not so bad. It's really hard to say without knowing how flexible your workplace is like. Is there someone you can run the idea by?
posted by Calzephyr at 7:03 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been in the management position working this out for folks at an architecture firm. My wife also did so.

In general, if it is a small to mid-sized firm (under 50 people) I'd expect them to be interested in working with you. Be concrete with your initial proposal in what you are looking for, but flexible in details. E.g. They may be more willing to have you take every Wednesday off instead of having 3 day weekends every week, particularly if others often work weekends and it would cause too much project discontinuity. Also, be ready to address how it would affect your team and projects.

Be aware that over time this approach will leave you a bit less connected to the office and definitely have an impact on future growth in the company. If there is a need to cut from payroll, the employee who is critical to fewer projects is more vulnerable. Also, be very clear about how it impacts benefits. If your employer pays a big sum towards insurance they may ask you to pick up a proportion of that cost proportional to the amount of time less that you are working, on top of taking a cut in pay for the fewer hours. Of course, this all depends on HR policies that may be written down, so definitely check there first.
posted by meinvt at 7:08 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't have first-hand experience, but a friend did this a few years ago at the big NGO he works for. He cut down to 3 days a week, and when he pitched to his manager she jumped on it, because they were looking to save money. If that's an angle that you think will be appealing where you are, it's worth considering.
posted by looli at 8:08 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did this after 4 years of really becoming part of the team (accounting). I pitched it as a money saving move that would also allow me some more personal time. I definitely needed my absence to be ZERO extra work for my boss, so I lined up a colleague to help out when necessary. She makes a bit less than I do, so I was able to pitch that angle as well.

I felt secure asking for the time because I work in a two-person department in which I do 90% of the crucial day-to-day tasks. I knew for sure that my boss didn't want to lose me. This seems like an important issue in this situation...

The ramifications have been that 1) The owner of the place looks less to me to take on new projects -that's fine with me. 2)My boss likes to hear what interesting things I'm doing with my time, because she still doesn't want to lose me. 3) Sometimes I miss the extra money 4) I'm so much happier.

All in all, making the move depends totally on your work environment & relationships, but it's awesome if you can pull it off! Good luck.
posted by jenmakes at 8:52 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have heard manager's fearful to approve this, b/c it makes it look like their original head count wasn't justified. IE; if you only needed Bobby for 32 hours, where else can you cut back ? They denied the request b/c they were fearful to stick their neck out.
Not sure how that helps, but just a data point. Need to find a way to avoid that pitfall.
posted by oblio_one at 9:18 PM on November 15, 2011

If you just say you want free time, it may sound like you lack drive. Specify a project or personal interest you want to pursue.
posted by theora55 at 9:18 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have seen it fail, or be rejected before it had a chance, often.

But, thinking positive, here's how it DOES work effectively.

First, the worker frequently accepts the need to have their cash pay go down by MORE than the amount they are reducing their schedule, because a lot of the overhead doesn't scale down at all. Health and other insurance benefits don't decline by a dime, your empty cubicle, parking space, share of admin assistant time, computing and support resources, expensive seat licenses for software, etc., are all going to keep generating cost on the Fridays you're not there.

Second, you are folding this approach into a culture and workflow that already has strong and routinely in-effect redundancy -- in other words, there are other people who regularly step in to do your work when you're away, and vice versa, because people in your role have generous vacation allowances (not chained to blackberry), lots of business travel where they have to set aside their in-office projects, etc. Places where everyone is a special snowflake of a professional and folks have two weeks of vaction, and take less, don't fit well into 4 day workweeks.
posted by MattD at 11:46 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's been 3 years since I cut my hours down to 30 per week. I work from 8:00 to 2:30 every day taking a 30 minute lunch. I did it so that I could pick my kids up from school myself and have more time at home, but it wasn't a necessity just something I wanted to do. My bosses had no problem with it. I put in the request about 2 months before I wanted to change my hours and they actually gave me a raise, so that when I did start working shorter hours and had to take a paycut, my pay pretty much stayed the same as before the raise! That totally shocked me...I was not expecting that at all. And I didn't lose any benefits. I'm not sure if every company is the same, but mine provides benefits for 30 hours and above. So, what I'm trying to say is...it doesn't hurt to ask!! Good luck!
posted by daydreamer at 9:57 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did this successfully in 2008. I cut my hours to 85% of full time (in practice this means I work full time for 3 months in the winter when we're very busy, and 4 days a week the rest of the year.) I was lucky in that my manager had already expressed a desire to cut salary costs in my department, so he couldn't really say 'no' when I came up for a proposal for that to happen. My work is seasonal though and I used to struggle to find enough work to keep me busy at my full-time hours all year round, so it was win-win for both me and my employer really.

I love having the extra free time, but do worry about the money I'm forgoing, and struggle slightly fiancially, and worry that I"m harming my future financial prospects. So it is a bit of a toss up. I don't have any practical reason for wanting to work part time, I just did it for quality of life.

I'm in the UK, for what it's worth. Working part time from choice, rather than for family reasons or because full time work isn't available, is pretty unusual here I think. It does feel liberating to take the plunge though. I get a lot of envious comments.
posted by prune at 3:58 PM on November 16, 2011

2nding the underwater basketweaving comment.
posted by xammerboy at 4:50 PM on November 16, 2011

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