Written by Malisa Lieser + Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
Recently, I did a scary thing at work.
I asked for a 4-day, 32-hour work week from my full-time corporate job. And guess what? I got it.
Over time, I've realized that the full-time corporate work lifestyle doesn't quite suit me for several reasons, and that life truly is too short to spend at a desk job. I have two young daughters to raise, and a lot of personal interests that warrant my attention. The flip side? We have a mortgage, a ton of student loan debt and daycare costs on top of our regular bills. At this point in life, I can’t just quit and 'go live my passion' at the drop of a hat. What I can do, though, is gradually take certain steps to make my life more balanced.
It can be a scary thing to speak up and ask for what you need from your employer. They pay your salary, and most of the time, don't need to provide reasoning before letting you go. When speaking up -particularly as a woman- it can be tough to stay rational and calm when having to defend yourself. So, let's start with what you can't do. You can't confront your boss in a demanding manner.
Here are 5 things you can do before taking the leap:
1. Check your employee handbook for relevant, existing policies.
Although there were [previously] no policies in place, my company claims to support a work-life balance, and states that related decisions are at the discretion of department directors. You better believe that I copied that info down during my research, and touched on it throughout my official request.
2. Speak to Human Resources.
After reviewing our employee handbook, I spoke to my HR representative to learn more about my options. Although she reiterated what I already knew, she gave me pieces of insight on how I could frame my case. As my particular request hadn't previously been made by anyone in my company, this meeting made me realize that I would soon be forging my own path on this issue.
3. Document your successes.
I saved and collected any emails of praise or success from my peers and higher-ups, along with work samples, awards, and favorable yearly and quarterly reviews, etc. These serve as proof that I am capable, productive, valuable and dependable. Show your company why it would be worth it for them to accommodate your request.
4. Read up.
Find articles or news stories that support your request. There are a ton out there about how employee retention and productivity can increase with more flexible work arrangements. Show everyone that by giving you something you want, it would be equally beneficial to them. Win/win.
5. Decide what you want.
What is it exactly that you're looking for? More vacation, a condensed work week, part-time work, work from home options, flexibility in your start or end time, or perhaps a raise? Be clear and firm about what you’re asking for, but allow for flexibility or negotiation. Maybe you want a 4-day work week, but are willing to check email after-hours to attend to urgent matters. Or, you're willing to take a pay cut to reduce the number of hours in your week. Put it in writing, so they know you are committed to your work and will maintain the level of quality they are used to.
After taking these steps, I did the thing. I asked for a 4-day work week. As my manager is a mom with young kids herself, it turns out that she was totally open to the idea. She wanted to keep me as an employee, and was therefore willing to go to bat for me to make that happen. It was convincing the higher-ups that took some work (and time), which is when most of my aforementioned preparations came in handy.
My request went all the way up to the Senior VP of Marketing and the Human Resources team. They had to objectively view the request, because if they said yes to me, they'd have to say yes to others as well. And sometimes, that can get out of hand.
I’m happy to say that my request was approved. I now work 4 days per week.
Not all cases will end in such a favorable outcome, but don’t let that deter you from trying. Maybe your company can’t give you what you need right now, but are willing to address the request again in 3 or 6 months. Keep compiling those kudos, along with additional research to make your case stronger. Continue to do outstanding work so they see the real value you bring to the organization, which, hopefully, will give you a leg up when you head back to the drawing board.
Other than the fact that I’m really excited about the endless opportunities provided by this extra day out of the office, I’m really proud of myself for putting in the work and time to fight for something that will hopefully have a positive impact on other people in my organization that have the same desires in the future. I’ve had a few co-workers (and even my director) thank me for being a champion for this cause, because it has been recognized as something that needs to be addressed within our organization.
If you don't ask the questions, you'll never get the answers. Put on your big girl panties, go forth, and ask for what you want.
Malisa is a Minneapolis mom of two with a passion for creativity, life orgnization, and boy bands. Currently working full-time in marketing communications for a manufacturing company, she also has a side hustle that she hopes will one day replace her 9-5 grind so she can become a boss babe on her own terms.