How Parents Can Ask for More Flexibility at Work

How Parents Can Ask for More Flexibility at Work
Photo: Maria Svetlychnaja, Shutterstock

It’s interesting how much we used to talk about the need for work-life balance, back when things were actually kind of balanced. Sure, many of us were stressed and spread thin in pre-pandemic times, but there was a set time for work and a time for family and a time for self-care, even if it felt like one of those buckets was heftier than the others. But now more than ever, work has become life, and life is work, and everything is happening simultaneously. The concept of balance feels like a quaint idea from a simpler time.

The new normal is to be like, “Ah well, let me finish up this huge work project at my dining room table while one kid can’t seem to log into his Zoom class and the toddler throws a tantrum because he wanted the green cup and I gave him the blue cup and, oh good, the dog is shitting on the rug again.”

Come along and dream with me for a moment: What if it didn’t have to be this way? What if we could find a way to pinpoint what we need and actually articulate it? What if we could — bear with me — ask our employer for the flexibility we need in terms of scheduling, childcare, and workload? I would argue that this is the time because:

They’ll never be more understanding than right now

Sure, if you’d walked into your boss’s office circa November 2019 and said, “Instead of nine to five, I’m gonna need to work noon to eight from now on, is that ok?” chances are high they would have said, “Yeah, that’s a no-go, bud.” We were all in offices together with our regular morning scrums and the ability to drop by each others’ offices or cubicles as needed, a fact that seemed vital to collaboration and workflow.

But this year, we figured out that we can actually have collaboration and a consistent workflow from the comfort of our own makeshift home offices via email, Slack, and video calls. Not to mention that bosses are home with their own children, partners, and accident-prone pets; chances are good they’re living a similar reality and recognise that now, more than ever, adjustments can and should be made.

And even if they’re not living the pandemic-with-young-children-at-home lifestyle, they’ve seen little Ella popping up in your video calls for months — the veil of your family life has been lifted and even if they’re not experiencing it firsthand, they’ve had a peek into what you are juggling.

Great, so how do you actually have the conversation?

Start by reiterating your commitment to the company

You might be afraid that asking for accommodations would imply that you want special favours, or that you’re not up to the job, or that you’re not as committed to the team as single, childless Peter over there who is ready for all Zooms, any Zooms, any time.

Reframe how you think and articulate that — it’s because you are so committed, because you want to always perform at the top of your game, that you’d like to propose some adjustments that will enable you to continue to meet (or exceed!) all of your goals.

Come up with a specific plan

Your boss may be willing and able to work with you on scheduling or workload flexibility, but it’s not up to them to figure out what that accommodation might be. Go into this conversation with a clear plan for how and when you will get your work done.

Maybe you’d like to change your work hours to a split between early mornings and then late afternoons or early evenings, with a chunk of time off in between to help your kids through their classwork. Get agreement from your colleagues for rescheduling any regular meetings you’d miss or figure out how to adjust workflow deadlines to make it work. If you’d like to take one day off during the week (and make it up on the weekend), choose a day that’s light on team meetings or big deadlines.

If you want to actually reduce your overall workload, decide what you’re willing to give up in return, such as agreeing to a temporary pay reduction or fewer paid days off while you cut your hours back.

Agree to re-evaluate after a trial period

Your boss might not be comfortable agreeing to let you work on a different schedule indefinitely. Acknowledge that although you think your plan will help you to better produce high-quality work, you also realise that some adjustments may be needed. Ask to try out your plan for a few weeks and then reconvene to evaluate whether it’s working for everyone.

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