Leap with a soft landing: how to request moving to part time?
January 9, 2019 5:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm a burnt out worker who needs a break. I think moving to part time at my current job will give me some much-needed breathing room while I figure out what to do next. I have never made a request like this before. Help me figure out how to approach my employer as skillfully as possible?

Hello! Long time poster, first time sockpuppeteer.

Folks, I know there's a lot missing in the question regarding my finances, personal situation, chances of getting another job, etc. That's fine! Please assume I've thought it all through very thoroughly and decided what would be best for me would be working part time at my current job for a few months and then getting a new job. This question is about how I can increase the likelihood of making that happen.

Background: I started at my job with my company, heretofore to be named "Fineforawhile Co," or FFAW, five years ago. FFAW was a step up for me at the time in terms of pay, even though I began in the lowest rungs of the department. After a couple of years, they promoted me to a newly created position, which came with a raise. Unlike others in similar roles in our industry, I do not have any special training, just the benefit of experience and knowledge specific to FFAW, along with good critical thinking skills. I mention this because it might affect FFAW's considerations in hiring or promoting a replacement.

Explaining all the reasons why I want to leave, yet not ready to jump into a new job yet, would be a whole different post and not super relevant to the questions. The short version is say that I related very hard to this post. I am very tired.

What I am hoping for: starting in March, I want to switch from full time to 20-24 hours a week. I would like to stay on at FFAW part time for anywhere from 2-6 months. Two months minimum doing nothing else but catching my breath, then start to a job hunt in earnest in June. I have significant personal reasons for this, but the one most relevant to my company is that our department had two rocky reorgs in the past year alone through which I've been a trouper and put in a lot of extra work and bananas hours to support the team, and now I'm done. My boss is a smart, good person and I truly believe she was not responsible for some of the crappier decisions that have come down the pike. I think she'll want to say yes. At the same time, I know she is ultimately going to accede to her boss, who is very by the book.

With all that in mind, my questions are around timing and logistics, what to say, and how to best protect myself, knowing that I might not get what I want no matter what I do.

a) Timing and logistics

Basically I'm trying to figure out f there's an etiquette or a protocol for this. If it doesn't matter, that's also good information to have.

My department will have our annual reviews in the next couple of weeks. We'll be informed of any raises, if I earned one (I don't think I did. Despite the *amount* of work I've put in, the quality has been just fine, not bad, but not stellar.)

Should I ask for the switch in the meeting, or wait until February? These meetings are usually just one on ones with my immediate boss. I know she would have to consult with her boss for approval, and HR would also get involved eventually, so should I just skip the interim steps and invite them all to a meeting? Or should I put it in writing?

b) Script

Here's what I've got so far:

"Boss, I've gained a tremendous amount from working at Fineforawhile, and I'm ready to start moving on and exploring other challenges. I'd like to request moving to part time, starting x month, to ease the transition while the company finds or promotes a replacement, and resign when a new person is hired. I would be happy to train this person and make sure we keep $projects on track in the mean time. As you know, it has been a rough year. To be candid, I think my quality of work would also improve by having some breathing room, and the need to stay highly focused during shorter hours."

If you are a manager or in HR, would this persuade you? How would you suggest changing it if not? I'm thinking that ultimately their decision to agree or not will depend on whether it makes financial and political sense, so I thought of mentioning how much the company would save on my salary and benefits in the interim. Yay/nay?

c) Limiting Risk

Ways my request could fail/backfire: I don't know of anyone else working part time in my company, so this very well could be rejected outright. If they just outright say no, would I still be considered to have resigned?

I realize the company could just decide to let me go then and there (which, while I would want more control over things, I think would still be fine, since I believe I would be entitled to unemployment.) They could also hire someone (or say they did) within the next couple of weeks, resulting in my being unemployed earlier than I want to. I have the savings to handle this and I would also be ok with it emotionally, but it's obviously not ideal. Is there anything I can do to phrase this request in such a way that I'm honest about not staying on permanently, but not shooting myself in the foot?* (Note, JUST thinking in terms of risk to my employment at this specific job.)

Final thoughts for leverage on my end:

Considering past hiring decisions, I think hiring a new person will take them at least a month, if it's outside the company, and I don't think there's anyone currently on our team who they would want to promote into the role (either too new, or too good at a different crucial specialty and it would be a huge pain to take them out of it.) They could get along without me at all, but that would put a sizable burden on a team that just barely has its footing again since the start of the year. I think other people might quit.

There's a big learning curve for starting in our department, so training a brand-new person would take a minimum of two weeks, with 3-4 being optimum. My boss is certainly capable of training my replacement, but it would be a huge time-suck for her and I would be better poised to do it.

I really do think it would be in everyone's interest to keep me on as long as I want to stay.
posted by sock paper scissors to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest that you consult with an emplyment law attorney in your area, because you may be able to get a modified schedule and protect your job through FMLA and/or a similar state law, i.e. if you can get a doctor to fill out an FMLA form that says you should have some much-needed breathing room. There are a variety of ways to implement a modified schedule through FMLA, and your state's law may offer additional options.

I think it can be helpful to provide legal cover to an organization for a decision they probably do want to make, but otherwise may not due to the impact on the business. It can help the organization help you, and it does not have to be adversarial at all. However, before you ask for the FMLA form that they likely have, please first talk to an attorney to determine whether and how FMLA or similar laws may apply to your situation.
posted by Little Dawn at 6:57 PM on January 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

You have to get buy-in from your immediate boss so I would start with just her. Also, I might lead with the fact that I was planning on quitting and then say that I was willing to stay on part time for a certain amount of time to help them out. All of your thoughts toward the end (hiring time, learning curve) sound like great points to bring up.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:59 PM on January 9, 2019

It depends on your boss. Signalling your desire to leave the company may put you in a position where they would much rather you leave sooner rather than later, in the sense that if you're moving on, you're no longer that invested in what you do and this could be bad for productivity. If I had somebody come to me and say"I'm planning on leaving in 6 months", I'd be watching their performance over that period. However, the offer to stay on to train a replacement could offset this. I guess it depends on how well you know how your boss responds to these sorts of things. Would going in to the conversation from the burnout and needing reduced hours, leaving out the intention to resign work?
posted by cholly at 7:04 PM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have no actual idea how to do this so will refrain from giving you advice, but I also related super hard to that article and just want to give you massive props for making a choice that will be good for you! I aspire to be you one day. Best of luck.
posted by DTMFA at 7:08 PM on January 9, 2019

I would avoid mentioning your burnout or intent to leave. “Boss, because of some (personal/medical/family) issues that have come up, I will only be able to work (3 days a week/4 hours a day/etc). I know this may not be possible in my current job, and if we can’t come to a long-term agreement, I’m willing to work PT for a few months to help find and train a full-time replacement.” Your reasons don’t have to be disclosed, although doctor’s orders could make it go smoother. If they do agree to ongoing part-time hours and you end up leaving after a few months (as you plan to), that’s just business.

To be blunt, if one of my staff came to me with your speech, I would hear “I’m burnt out and doing poor work. I am on my way out the door but I have some hard-to-implement ideas I want to try as I’m leaving.” My assumption would be that a move to PT would probably not fix whatever had caused them to burn out, and that they would be resigning shortly either way. Fighting with my by-the-book boss to make this work would not be high on my to-do list. (To be clear, I’m not making these judgments about you! Just going on the script alone.)
posted by pocams at 8:43 PM on January 9, 2019 [10 favorites]

I think this is really company specific, unfortunately. I did do this, actually. But I think that my case was different in that I was leaving to return to school (so a defined end date) and I was such a valued employee that they really could not afford to lose me abruptly, so they were willing to be flexible and be “seen” as supportive of employee life goals. I was pretty certain of both of these facts before I spoke informally with my direct manager (and we already had part time work as a precedent within the group)...but I was also willing to walk with two weeks notice if they didn’t accommodate my request.

I think from a managerial standpoint one thing that bothers me about your script is that it sounds vague. I’d be looking for more information about your timing, on how you plan to be “highly focused.” I’d have other concerns too but those popped out as things you might address head on.
posted by sm1tten at 9:19 PM on January 9, 2019

Personally, I would lie. Do you have elderly parents/children/a neglected passion for art? Something like "while doing my new years resolutions I realized that with all those extra hours at work last year, I've really been missing out on $balancedLifeComponent. I've been thinking about ways to really correct that this year, and I think that to meet my personal goals, I should work part-time for a while. How could we set that up?"

If there isn't anyone else working part time at the company, it could be a bunch of effort for HR etc to set up, and they are unlikely to see "I'll train someone before I leave" as worth it.

Another option to explore is leaving and becoming a consultant for a period, where you could negotiate hours - does your company have any existing consultants?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:59 AM on January 10, 2019

Oh, and another other option: how much vacation time do you have? Are you allowed to go into a negative amount? You could arrange just with your manager to take 2 days vacation per week, and avoid by-the-book boss and HR altogether.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:01 AM on January 10, 2019

I agree with the comments above that you shouldn't say you're leaving until you're ready to leave. I don't see anything unique to your circumstances that makes this an exception to that rule. With your script, I'd hear, "I'm leaving, and I'm willing to draw it out," and I'd flip to deciding the amount of drawing-out that's best for the company. I'd have no reason to consider your wants -- you're out the door anyway. I wouldn't count on them wanting you to spend weeks training your replacement -- they might, or they might not.

You can ask to go down to part-time temporarily or permanently without bringing up that you're on the off-ramp. Can your job be done part-time? If so, that's mutually beneficial. I'd sketch out how, and have that in your back pocket. Then approach your immediate boss informally at first, and just float the question of whether it might be possible for you to go part-time as you have a plan for how the work would still get done.

If your job can't be done part-time, or the answer from your boss is no, then it's a matter of figuring out how it can be done part-time temporarily, and asking for that for a fixed period of time. You can reference the recent over-work as a reason for the breather, or use any of the reasons other commenters have suggested. The incentive for your company to grant you that is to avoid losing you, a valuable employee. If you're out the door anyway, you've given up that leverage. You know that you'll leave at the end of your part-time period, but that's not information you should share with them.

Also, find out your company's benefits cutoffs -- if working a minimum of X hours/week is required to stay eligible for them, you don't want to accidentally propose working X minus 2, e.g.

Also also, regarding qualifying for a raise, the fact that your work hasn't been stellar doesn't disqualify you. You've kept it "fine" while having to do "a lot of extra work and bananas hours" during a crazy year. That IS stellar. Get your raise first -- fight for it if you need to, don't demur -- and then bring up the part-time stuff.
posted by daisyace at 6:19 AM on January 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

Are you 100% sure FFAW doesn't have a policy for reduced schedules?

Are there competitors who do? Because that's worth mentioning.

Agree with all who say that any mention of leaving is a terrible idea. A noble impulse, but not shrewd.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:22 AM on January 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

These are all incredibly helpful! Taking my time reading and thinking through everything, but just wanted to say I really appreciate everyone's thoughts.
posted by sock paper scissors at 8:39 AM on January 11, 2019

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