Advice for Negotiating At Work

During my mom years, I've worked full-time, part-time and not at all. I am at my best when doing paid part-time work that gives me "enough" time with my three kids. I've negotiated rewarding, flexible management level positions at Johnson & Johnson and The Washington Post. I've also lost a few negotiations along the way. In this recent interview with Business Week, I shared what I've learned.

What are your negotiating insights?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  March 30, 2006; 4:00 AM ET  | Category:  Flexibility
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I guess I feel that negotiating this type of deal is a privilege of the upper level professional "class" at work. I used to work at a large law firm in DC and there were several female attorneys who worked part-time or from home, and people at the director level, but from managers on down it wasn't allowed. So I guess I feel this is a great idea in theory, but it doesn't actually work for most people in practice.

Posted by: Snap2 | March 30, 2006 8:01 AM

I've noticed that its easier to ask forgiveness than permission with these schedules in my workplace. Mgmt actually prefers not explicitly acknowledging it- flextime is just done, and if its an issue, you'll hear about it. If you ask permission without threatening to quit, they just say no. However people who just start doing it have more success. Doesn't seem logical to me, but that's the way it seems to be done.

Posted by: Metro Area | March 30, 2006 8:08 AM

Snap2

You make a very valid point. The more advanced your position in a company the more flexibility you are likely to have. The individuals with the hardest time trying to "balance" work and family are those who are in lower level, lower paid positions with little ability to negotiate an arrangement that will work for them. Many of these people end up quitting out of frustration, which continues the cycle of employers and employees believing that a balanced lifestyle is impossible.

All that being said, the best advice you can give your children is to get the best education they can. With education comes options. I have a job which gives me much flexibility (I am going in late today because my husband has a meeting and I need to drop the kids off at school, I have the ability to work from home if I need to) but that is possible only because I have a JD and work in a professional position at the company that allows me flexibility. Clerical workers who are paid hourly don't have this option.

Posted by: jd | March 30, 2006 8:22 AM

Employees are in a very weak spot in terms of negotiating a flexible or part-time arrangement if the organization hasn't done that before --and this is especially true for new hires. I know that when I used to hire people, I advertised for a full-time position, and I was pretty dismissive of anyone who came to me suggesting something else (The nerve! They don't even work here yet!) Now that I'm a mom myself and have left my high-pressure job for part-time self-employment, I see things a little differently.

I think companies and hiring managers would be well-served to do some creative thinking and try to make more positions part-time from the start. There are lots of benefits to the company: It might be easier to get budget approval to hire a 0.5 or 0.75 FTE, you might be able to get 6 days for the price of 5 (2 people who job-share and each work 3 days, each for half-salary). And the biggest benefit is that there are SO many talented, smart women out there who REALLY want to use their brains again for something other than generating preschool craft projects but who aren't willing to make the family sacrifices necessary to go back to the 60-hr workweek. I think companies would get very savvy, skilled, loyal employees if they approached hiring this way.

Posted by: jan | March 30, 2006 8:41 AM

Where I work it's the reverse: The higher up you are, the less likely it is that you'll be able to work part-time or on a flexible schedule. You do have to have a certain amount of rank to go part time, so it's the middle strata of jobs that can do this. Exempt employees doing gruntwork have the most options.

Posted by: JobMom | March 30, 2006 8:42 AM

I think you have to make your own opportunities--and that comes from both negotiating months off before kids and coming back to the jobforce after kids. The thing that has made it work for me is my history and contacts--people know I can perform for them and recommend me to others. Definitely having a degree to "sell" my skills and a non-blue collar career track helps, but I think it's more about knowing what you will and won't do and making your demands known. I actually didn't intend on coming back after my son was born, but part-time jobs came to me that were good both for me and the companies I represented.

This is true as much for dads as moms. My husband's entire team--except for him--is spending an insane amount of time overseas. After three months of this, he made it clear to his higher-ups that they would be without his services if we continued to go without him being home more. Maybe people grumbled, but he's here now without any damage to his career. His standing firm was like a light bulb going off for others--"Maybe we could use someone to look over things overnight". It wasn't easy for him to stand up, but the whole team is benefiting.

Posted by: PTJobFTMom | March 30, 2006 9:20 AM

It also depends on the career you chose. I'm a writer, so it is easy for me to work from home two days a week. That's one of the reasons why I picked my major in college and why I write now.

Posted by: Scarry | March 30, 2006 9:24 AM

Um, maybe it would be best to try to avoid terms like gruntwork, except perhaps if we want to refer to our own work in that way. Otherwise, it can sound like "work I'm too important to do, but it's OK for someone else."

Posted by: Anonymous | March 30, 2006 9:25 AM

My job is indeed gruntwork. Thanks for the chance to clarify.

Posted by: JobMom | March 30, 2006 9:42 AM

Wow, this is the first thread we've had where I feel as if everyone has approached with good advice and no fingerpointing. How refreshing!

I agree with Metro Area about asking forgiveness later. I used to work for one of the big consulting firms, and my group was big on face time -either with the client or with fellow consultants at the office. It didn't seem to matter whether or not the time was actually productive. After working there for 6 months, I slowly started doing things like leaving at 3 and logging on immediately from home. I would then work and send items out, making sure I was available to the powers that be. Eventually, I would do an entire day from home. Once I had proven that I was a producer and concerned about giving my client a quality product, management did not say anything. People who asked for this outright were denied.

By the way, I am not a sneaky person by nature, and I don't advocate trying to shirk duties. But there is something to be said for slowly changing mindsets. A lot of bosses just aren't ready to loosen the reins completely. Once they see it works, though, they most often won't stop it.

If you supervise people, beware though -one problem we had after a small group of us introduced this to our practice was newcomers trying to abuse this privilege we had carefully cultivated.

I understand the "ease into it" approach won't work for every job, but for those who are in a situation similar to mine -Good luck! It just might be worth a try.

Posted by: Soon to be Mom | March 30, 2006 9:48 AM

I work for a federal agency with flextime and generally good leave policies. However, expectations and opportunities vary within different departments. I previously worked in an area where we could actually release benefit checks to the public. While in that organization, only a certain percentage of the people could be off at any given time. In fact, when the government shut down and went on Furlough in 1997(?), I had to go to work.

Leave denial generally became a problem around holidays and peak vacation times. Xmas eve and the day after Xmas and to a lesser degree, the week between Xmas and New Years is very popular. Also, the day after Thanksgiving and the days around July 4th, especially if the 4th falls on a Tuesday or Thursday. Contrary to popular belief, the feds don't get holidays for Christmas eve or Black Friday. A seniority roster is put into place for days where too many people request leave. If you are approved for a leave day based on the seniority roster, you then go to the bottom of the list or people with less seniority would never get a chance to take leave on roster days. The lists are established by position (e.g. - analysts, typists, authorizers, managers, etc). People with the most seniority were upset about moving to the bottom of the list, but during the years of downsizing and next-to-nothing hiring, I had the least seniority with 15 years. You can't change your place on the totem pole when new people aren't being hired.

During one of the roster selections, a woman without children was approved to be off Christmas week, while another woman in same area who had children was denied leave. The mother told the non-mother that she should give up her time for someone with kids. The non-mother responded with one of my favorite all-time answers. "Just because I don't have kids doesn't mean I don't have family to be with during the holidays." - By the way, I am a working mother and still think it was a great response.
There was also a time when maternity leave was approved only until the doctor released you to return to work which is usually 6 weeks or 8 weeks if you have a C-section. And that time was paid only if you had saved enough leave to cover it.
I worked in another area where you could pretty much use your leave whenever you wanted as long as your work got done. But someone in that area requested a 9-month leave of absence while her son was in half day kindergarten and half day daycare options could not be found. That worker was a very highly respected employee who quit because the leave of absence was denied. It was denied because she could not be replaced as long as the slot was being held open for her (budget complications).
There are some part-time opportunities, but there are also budgetary concerns here. Offices are generally assigned a number of full time slots. If an employee switches to part time, the number of full time slots is reduced. Getting budget approval to increase the number of full time slots is generally next to impossible, so managers are reluctant to allow the changeto part time. In fact, the approval may have to be done at a management level that is several layers higher by someone who doesn't even know the employee and what benefits they bring to the agency. The easiest way to go part time is to find someone who is part time and wants to go fulltime. The switch can be made on paper so that the total number of parttime and fulltime employees doesn't change. You don't even necessarily have to be doing the same job. Also, you would pay a greater percentage of your health insurance premiums. The retirement calcuations for part time workers are less generous than full time, and not just because you are making less money - the calculations are actually different.

As far as work from home - you can forget it if you need mainframe computer access, or work with confidential information - think IRS, VA, SSA. The work from home is technically possible but will be denied because of the confidential records and security issues. The American public wants to know that there personal information is secure.

Having said all that, the agency has been a good place to be a working mother. The workweek is a 40 hour week, not 60-80. Overtime is usually optional when it is available, and positions which require occasional mandatory overtime, or after-hour on-call status usually state that up front. Those are the positions I just don't apply for. There are many other positions available that allow you to stick to the 40-hour schedule.
PS - I am at home on leave right now. I am not using taxpayers money to respond to blogs.

Posted by: working mom | March 30, 2006 10:04 AM

working mom...
In general, if your response is longer than the original blog, then it won't be read by most. It is considered a brant.

Posted by: LC | March 30, 2006 10:14 AM

I think what may work in many situations, is if a couple can work their schedules so that one can go in early the other a little late and stay late. I (the mother) asked my boss when I started my job, if he minds if I come in early and therefore leave early. He was a bit taken aback (most people don't ask if they can come early), but happily agreed. I'm the first one in the office, and I usually take working lunches. My husband get to work by 9 to 9:30 after dropping the kids off, and stays later (fyi: we tried it the other way around and it didn't work out well b/c in this day and age co-workers still couldn't understand why HE had to leave early to pick up kids).

Also, I read in an article somewhere that despite what many people think, you as a worker look better when you come in early and leave early. Managers often view employees who routinely stay late as unefficient, while employees who come in early as viewed as eager.

By the way, it's still tough, and we're working things out, and also my husband and I took positions (professions) that perhaps doesn't pay as well so we're tight on money, but it gives us flexible options, which is more important to us. We'll see what happens in the future.

Posted by: N. from D.C. | March 30, 2006 10:23 AM

I'm a manager and I work 4 days a week. I recently approached my employer with a proposal to promote my assistant (which my boss had discussed with me prior to my request) and give me a severance package to leave. I posited that they could promote from within and hire a new assistant for less than what they are now paying for one full-time and one part-time person. I understand that it would take a few months to recoup what they put out for my severance pay, but ultimately, it would be to the company's advantage. The answer? No. My only problem is that I wasn't prepared to leave when I got the answer. Any advice? I can't seem to find any flexible part time work in magazine production. I hate for 20 years of experience in the publishing field to go to waste. Seems the only flexible part time jobs out there are for admin assts. Am I searching in the wrong places (WP online jobs, Monster, careerbuilder)?

Posted by: Working Mom from Silver Spring | March 30, 2006 10:23 AM

Spelling correction - "their personal information". I don't like to feed the stereotypes regarding government workers =).

Begging forgiveness vs asking permission doesn't work everywhere. We actually have to sign-in and sign-out every day. If you leave before the end of your shift without taking leave, you are AWOL and subject to disciplinary actions. If you leave early and falsify the sign-in sheets, you are also subject to disciplinary action.

I do leave early when I need to, but it results in never having more than one one-week vacation per year because my leave time is used up in dribs and drabs for appointments, school functions, school closed days, etc. Not complaining, just stating facts.

I have done a lot of grunt work in my time. There's a reason it's called work and not play or fun or hobby. All work is valuable in its own way. Reading this blog, you would think that there is no one who is not highly educated and performing only important work they love. I wonder how many would still work at their current jobs if there was absolutely no financial reason to continue.

Posted by: workingmom | March 30, 2006 10:29 AM

What's a brant? I guess this is newer slang that I don't know.

Posted by: workingmom | March 30, 2006 10:38 AM

Finally, a blog posting that is not 100% deliberately inflammatory. Until now, Leslie Morgan Steiner's m.o. seems to have been to post the most inflammatory things possible, phrased in the most inflammatory way possible, and then sit back and act shocked - SHOCKED! - that people respond with harsh and hostile posts.

Posted by: JayneSays | March 30, 2006 10:43 AM

Working Mom,

I now work for the Feds and understand the difference. One reason, I came here, though, is because the benefits and work week are more stable. In consulting, I was able to work from home on occasion, but I also worked 60-80 hours a week, and traveled as well.

I agree, though, dribbling away leave is painful, and some government managers are not sympathetic to the notion of making time up elsewhere. However, the not asking permission scenario might be helpful to some in corporate America.

Posted by: Soon to Be Mom | March 30, 2006 11:11 AM

[phrased in the most inflammatory way possible,]
Everyone on this blog has gotten real polite (and boring). What I want is a blog that discusses real parenting issues like :
1. At what age should we stop having sex in front of the child.
2. What are acceptable conditions to make your child take psychoactive medications.
3. Are the schools pushing too much or too little?
4.Does a puppy make a good birthday gift.
I think the work/family subject issues are becoming quickly beat like a dead corpse and Leslie needs to do something to boost the ratings.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 30, 2006 11:22 AM

Father of 4 - why are you still here? Seriously, you don't like the topics or the other posters. Go away before that aneurysm bursts.

I'm a manager, and I have two assistants. The senior one, female, has no kids, the junior one, male, has two. A former assistant, female, had three.

Mom-of-three was chronically late to work, left early at least twice a week, and had blown all of her leave by March of every year. Once, she brought her spoiled rotten toddler to the office, where he ran around and shrieked for an hour before I sent her home with a warning, and the idiot actually threatened to sue over it.

As a result of this history... When my present assistant has to run home because one of his kids is sick, I have to hide the annoyance. Sorry. One bad apple really does ruin the barrel.

I hate that I feel that way. His wife is a day care worker who CANNOT leave her job on short notice. He is a spreadsheet jockey whose deadlines usually have a few days of flexibility, AND he works at home when he's on sick kid duty. I'm a feminist planning to have children in the next year and in a position to set the tone.

And I STILL can't quite shake the inner frustration that one of my best people is constantly running home because the kid has yet another ear infection. My point? I think I'd be unable to hide that frustration if he "asked forgiveness instead of permission."

P.S. Working Mom, I read every word of your informative post. Thanks for the insight into the Fed way of doing things.

Posted by: Sonia | March 30, 2006 11:49 AM

Workingmom - Yeah, your post was long, but so what? I read it, and found myself nodding - a lot. I work for the gov't, too. Oh, but I am at work right now. I read this blog on my lunch break, which today ends in about 2 minutes. =)

Posted by: DLM | March 30, 2006 11:58 AM

To WorkingMom,

I too read every word of your post and found extremely interesting. It was great not only as an insight into the way the fed govt operates, but a great reminder on hours v. flexibility v. vacation, and the importance of knowing what's important to each family.

Posted by: dc | March 30, 2006 12:04 PM

Sonia, I hope that your supervisor is as understanding as you're trying to be when you have a child and face inevitable time away from work to do sick duty or make appointments. As a former manager of a staff of 18, I recall with perfect clarity my annoyance when the same couple of moms were late, left early, missed work, etc. BUT I'm wondering if you plan to ask your supervisor for permission or forgiveness when you need to be away from the office for such reasons? It's much, much more palatable for most people to ask permission to deal with childcare issues, because they are a fact of life with a child. Asking for forgiveness is like saying "sorry that I have children".

I don't know anyone who works who doesn't have childcare issues from time to time, even people with full-time nannies. The possible exception to this may be those with stay-at-home spouses, but everybody gets sick sometime.

Posted by: Cadence | March 30, 2006 12:12 PM

What if we discovered that Fatherof4 is actually......LESLIE?

LOL!

Posted by: JayneSays | March 30, 2006 12:22 PM

I just asked my manager today what the minimum number of hours per week were to maintain full benefits, and he said 30. I have been looking at cutting back to a 6 hour day when our son starts public school so he doesn't have to do B&A care, and I could see him off to school in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon. I think a 6 hour work day would be good for me, eventually. But as long as our son is in full-day daycare, I might as well work a full 40 hour week, save some money for his college fund and other household needs, and cut back the hours when it becomes necessary.

Posted by: Outer Fairfax | March 30, 2006 12:22 PM

Cadence: My boss' wife is pregnant with twins, and has her own business as well. I expect I'll be able to ask permission and get it, too!

Assuming he's still here when I have kids. If he's not, I honestly don't know. That's the thing that makes all this so difficult, I expect. The common thread I'm seeing is that it all comes down to your manager. I think there's no consistent company policy because there's no coherent social policy.

Look at what I'm doing as a manager, for heaven's sake. I'm internally placing a higher value on my assistant's spreadsheet work relative to his wife's job caring for ten four year old kids. Even though I know better on an intellectual level; that her job has a higher value to society!

I'm so uncomfortable with all of this serious stuff being up to pure blind luck.

Posted by: Sonia | March 30, 2006 12:26 PM

In response to Sonia's comment: "I'm internally placing a higher value on my assistant's spreadsheet work relative to his wife's job caring for ten four year old kids. Even though I know better on an intellectual level; that her job has a higher value to society!"

That might be because you are getting paid to make sure the spreadsheet is taken care of, not the children. It's not as though you are deciding between the two -- you would not be doing the job your company pays you to do if you were.

That said, it sounds like you handle the situation sensitively -- particularly the part about recognizing flexibility in the "deadline" for the spreadsheet.

However, I would be interested in hearing from the managers on how they reacted when an employee canceled a presentation (or something else significant and/or with a deadline) because the employee's child was sick.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 30, 2006 12:38 PM

Sonia,
I have great respect for your rationalization on how the human person takes priority over their work. Thats why I'm on this blog - I like the people even though they may be mean and nasty. It doesn't bother me if people insult me or contradict my opinion, it just gives me feedback so I can make adjustments and become a better person. When I ask the boss to take off early because one of my kids is sick, I ask him "Would you respect me more if I took off early to take care of my sick child or is it more important that I stay and crunch these numbers?" I wish he was as understanding as you.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 30, 2006 1:02 PM

I wonder if there are other stepparents out there that have experienced anything similar to what I have. Being a stepparent adds another layer of complication on the whole flexibility issue. Whether its planned leave to care for my stepson on a no school day or an infrequent need to leave early for a sickday (my husband and I take turns), My manager is constantly judging what she perceives my role should be, b/c my stepson is "not my responsiblity" its "my husband's child."

This really steams me- I generally don't mention anymore why I am using planned leave in conversations. Its nobody's business anyhow (unless its a last minute need to leave- then I do of course provide explanation), and I resent the judgements on my marriage. When I got married, I chose to treat my stepson as my own, and as such, I don't consider him any less of my responsiblity.

Posted by: Local | March 30, 2006 1:06 PM

Sonia wrote: "I think there's no consistent company policy because there's no coherent social policy."

Very smart observation. I sometimes think Americans undervalue caregivers because deep down, we're uncomfortable with the very idea of dependency. Who are all these four-year-olds to upset the office routines? Logically we know that, for civilization to continue, we need to produce new people, and that the kind of job we do now will have some kind of impact on our personal and collective futures. Yet in the short term we tend to treat parents as if they were raising bonsai trees. We don't want anyone to depend on us. We don't want any new government restrictions on employers (and we're fast getting rid of existing protections for employees). We don't want any new entitlements (and we keep looking for ways to jettison the old ones, despite the recognition that government-mandated insurance can work well, as in the case of unemployment insurance). We don't want any extra responsibility, not even for the people who will care for us in our old age. We seem to be moving toward a social model in which it's every man, woman and child for him- or herself. Maybe it would help if parents recognized that as a big part of the workforce, we have some collective bargaining power.

We also have some responsibility to each other, I think. I admire the working dad who refused to keep going on overseas business trips. Regarding the "peer pressure" working men sometimes exert on each other to be available for work all day, every day, my response -- unless someone's family truly is on the brink of total financial ruin -- would be the same as to a seventh-grade girl whose friends think shoplifting is cool: "Just because other people do it doesn't mean it's right."

Posted by: Gloria | March 30, 2006 1:27 PM

Part of the problem lies in the fact that businesses generally exist to make money, either by providing services or creating products. Businesses don't like to have too many employees and find themselves in the position of paying people who aren't producing. When employees take off without advance notice when they are sick or family situations arise, that is also a bad situation for the employer. It is hard to find the proper balance of employees that allows flexibility for the employees as well as a business that runs smoothly for the managers.

Look at it from the business viewpoint for a minute. What if you went shopping and their were no cashiers? They may all have legitimate reasons for taking off work, but the store wouldn't survive very long.

It's a complicated situation that will require creative solutions.

Posted by: eak | March 30, 2006 1:38 PM

Working Mom in Silver Spring:
By looking for part-time jobs in the paper, monster, etc., you are selling yourself short. Work your network--after 20 years you must have one--and see who might need some on-call help. You have to create these kind of jobs--most companies don't know they need a part-timer until someone brings up the idea and certainly wouldn't advertise for one.

Posted by: PTJob FT Mom | March 30, 2006 1:38 PM

Leslie,

I also have ideas of future discussions. Maybe not as exciting as father of 4, but here they are.

- Balancing needs of husband and kids while dealing with needs of parents or parents-in-law

- Dealing with teens. Unbelievable range of what is considered acceptable (by parents) in my neighborhood.

- (This is for Local). Special concerns of step-parents and blended or split families

Posted by: eak | March 30, 2006 1:44 PM

Major problems arise when decisionmakers, i.e. senior managers, are those men who chose to be devoted to their careers to provide financially for their families so their wives could be SAHMs. When the women (or even the men) beneath them in the corporate ladder ask for part-time work, flexible arrangements, telecommuting arrangements, etc., these managers often are less than accomodating. They often cannot understand why many modern parents must balance work and family instead of one parent carrying the WOH burden and the other carrying the parenting burden as they did or are doing.

This is discrimination, but maybe not legally.

I would much rather work for an involved parent. Not only do they understand family responsibilities; they also tend to be better managers, IMO. The single people I've worked for and the husbands of SAHMs have given me the worst grief over minor matters.

Being a good parent translates into being good at many other things. Honestly, if you can manage a child and a home, you can manage a lot of other things too.

Posted by: Anon | March 30, 2006 2:04 PM

Sorry, I should have said I admire the working dad who refused to go on _unnecessary_ overseas trips. The fact that they were unnecessary is evidenced by the company's continued existence. True, the business of businesses is to make money, not to be nice (or "creative"). The business of employees is to offer a percentage of their time and energy in exchange for agreed-upon compensation, not to sign over their lives to fulfilling an employer's every whim. As in the early days of the labor movement, the greater the number of potential workers who reject untenable working situations, the greater the pressure on employers will be to come up with more reasonable offers.

The store in eak's example should hire enough cashiers that it can cover the occasional and reasonable absences of any given employee due to family emergencies. If it can't do that, it does indeed deserve to suffer from a dearth of any cashiers to ring up purchases.

Posted by: Gloria | March 30, 2006 2:19 PM

I work at a small technical firm. The president of my company has always had his own ideas, even though he's a traditional Virginia gentleman (first family and everything). He hired women in the math/technical field back in the 70s when few employers were interested, and even now this firm has as many women in technical positions as men. The field requires a lot of training and it is therefore important to have employee retention.

He also believes that smart people who will do a good job raising their kids should be *encouraged* to have kids (and he assumes that all of his employees are in this category). To that end he is very generous with maternity leave, allows telecommuting, working reduced hours, flextime, etc. I don't think these incentives cost him much, but they give him an extremely dedicated workforce, and excellent retention rates. In the last decade, only 2 of his 22 employees have left for other companies.

Posted by: Lucky working mom | March 30, 2006 2:42 PM

Wow, Lucky, you are lucky. And your employer is really smart. He should be cloned or, at least, made head of the National Chamber of Commerce or the Department of Labor, or at least sent on a speaking tour of the Fortune 1000.

Posted by: THS | March 30, 2006 2:47 PM

How does everyone feel about when to negotiate these issues? I am about to change jobs and we are getting ready to start trying for our first. I'd like to have a long career with this place, and am nervous about how long I should be there before we start trying and then whether to negotiate the full deal right off the bat, or just deal with leave time and cross the part-time, work-from-home, etc. bridges when we come to them. I know this is a long way away, but I'd like to have the path defined in my headas I move forward.

Posted by: KLTA | March 30, 2006 2:55 PM

Gloria, what you said at 1:27 PM, the whole thing, but especially, "Maybe it would help if parents recognized that as a big part of the workforce, we have some collective bargaining power."


Parents should have bargaining power both as parents and as workers. As workers, they are contributing to whatever enterprise they're involved in, and, as parents, they're helping to create the next generation of our society.

As we've been saying all week, individual solutions can be worked out, but they are fragile. The world needs to be remade in certain ways. I think we need more facts about what companies and governments are doing w/ regard to some of these issues.

I liked eak's topics, but I also think it would be great if we could recruit some experts to comment on topics such as daycare, home schooling, job-sharing arrangements, effects of employer-provided childcare on employee retention, and probably lots of other things. It would be nice to hear from someone who has analyzed these issues as a means of providing a framework or a basis of comparison for our own experiences.

Posted by: THS | March 30, 2006 2:57 PM

KLTA, I moved from the UK to the US recently. I stayed with my company through the move but changed my job. I started in September and am just pregnant with my 2nd. I have to say I am some what nervous telling my management about my impending news. I will be in my job over 1 year when I have my baby. While I am not new to the firm, I am functionally new. (Although, I have been with the company over 5 years).

When I was in England, an employee had to be with the company 1 year before pregnancy (I think this is right) in order to get full maternity benefits (6 months full pay and up to 1 year off).

Not sure if a rule like this applies in the US.

Posted by: UP | March 30, 2006 3:02 PM

To KTLA re when to negotiate: I'll just repeat what Amy Joyce, one of the Post's career columnists says when this question comes up in her weekly chats, as it often does.

Her answer: Deal w/ it, when it's clear what there is to deal with. You don't know, for instance, how long it will take you to become pregnant or how well you will feel during your pregnancy (we hope very well, of course). And you will know more about the job, what part of your work you could do from home, whether a job-sharing arrangement would work---all sorts of things---after you have worked there for a little while.

If you have 6-12 months of being a great employee behind you, you are more likely to be able to create arrangements that are to your liking . . . unless, perhaps, you have some very rare and highly, sought-aafter skills.

That's Amy Joyce, as funneled through me.

Posted by: THS | March 30, 2006 3:05 PM

So that sounds like we should wait at least three months before starting to try - ie would start showing earliest at 6 months on the new job. I know it may not happen right away, but if it does, I don't want to be too much of a neophyte and ruin my chances there. The new job does have the one year policy - you have to be there one year at delivery to get benefits. But if I cut it too close to one year, is it bad to look like I planned for just that?

Posted by: KLTA | March 30, 2006 3:12 PM

Sorry - didn't mean to focus so entirely on my own quandary. I wanted to say I really like the idea of mobilizing this group somehow to highlight the employers who are handling these issues WELL. Maybe that is something Ms. Steiner would take a leadership role on.

It is a tough sell to upper management and boards to do right by employees who need the flexibility, and those organizations and managers should be rewarded in a way to incentivize imitation by others.

Posted by: KLTA | March 30, 2006 3:21 PM

"But if I cut it too close to one year, is it bad to look like I planned for just that?"


Well, I'm not a mom, a manager, or Amy Joyce, so I'll just tell you what I think w/ regard to that issue. YMMV.


Lots of people don't feel great in their first trimester. If you did get pregnant right away you might be having some tough days when you'd only been at your new job a few months.

So, unless your biological clock is ticking loudly, I think I'd wait a little longer. Again, that's just what I'd do. It's not that I have any special wisdom on this topic.

You need to think of yourself too and whether you want to be thinking about proving yourself at work, whether you're having sex on the right night, and whether you'll be feeling well enough to go to work more than three mornings out of five all in the first few months of your new job.

Posted by: THS | March 30, 2006 3:29 PM

[is it bad to look like I planned for just that]
If you live in the Washington DC area, I can guarantee you that it will be the subject of office gossip. I was let go 3 weeks after my wife had her 3rd. But that's to be expected if you work for an EPA contractor.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 30, 2006 3:53 PM

Outer Fairfax wrote:
"I just asked my manager today what the minimum number of hours per week were to maintain full benefits, and he said 30. I have been looking at cutting back to a 6 hour day when our son starts public school so he doesn't have to do B&A care, and I could see him off to school in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon. I think a 6 hour work day would be good for me, eventually. But as long as our son is in full-day daycare, I might as well work a full 40 hour week, save some money for his college fund and other household needs, and cut back the hours when it becomes necessary."

LC Wrote:
OK...I approve. Is that what you wanted to hear?

Posted by: LC | March 30, 2006 4:09 PM

Father of 4 - Yeah, I'm with you. This blog has really lost it's pizazz. I've moved on to bigger and better things. I still check back from time to time to see if anything exciting's going on. 9 times out of 10 I'm disappointed.

Your name seems to automatically give you away when you try to stir up trouble. Have you thought about signing off with a different handle? Perhaps you could "stage" an argument between say, a working mom and SAHD, and see who jumps into the fray. Just a few suggestions to liven up this tea party.

Posted by: LB | March 30, 2006 4:29 PM

"Tea Party?"
How can you call this a tea party? This a a forum for justifying our own choices, judging eachother's choices, and promoting the author's materials.

...oh, I guess it is a tea party.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 30, 2006 4:36 PM

THS, I agree. It would be nice to have some well-reasoned, well-researched points of public policy to rally around. Maybe the blog format would be a good one for promoting voices of reason (as opposed to the TV format, which usually involves getting obnoxious people together to argue with each other in order to generate some drama). There are a couple of sociologists, Kathleen Gerson and Jerry Jacobs, who research work-life balance issues and make some good suggestions in their book The Time Divide. Another person who's been writing about some of this stuff for years is the Post's own Judith Martin, in the Miss Manners column. She's been a defender of gender equity in the workplace and of the importance of family time.

And it's definitely a good idea to send Lucky's employer on that speaking tour. I'm sure he could tell other employers that he not only has a low turnover rate, but that anytime he does have a job opening, he's besieged by applications from smart and highly motivated workers.

Posted by: Gloria | March 30, 2006 5:11 PM

OK, I'm checking out now. Perhaps Leslie will respond to some of these ideas. We can see what happens tomorrow.

Posted by: THS | March 30, 2006 5:25 PM

I think Leslie has brought a great group of people together that has many, many common interest that all parents want to share. I also think that the narrow focus on balancing work and family will lose its readership and degenerate into a bragging board of self-actualized, upper middle class professionals whose super serius perspective of parenting and work overshadows the entertainment value, fun, and most of all, the experiences we enjoy of parenting. I would love to have discussions on things like The cute things kids say as well as how other parents have handled there teenagers getting caught smoking pot, or getting busted playing doctor. So how about it Leslie-baby, do you think you can "Work it In" somehow.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 30, 2006 6:30 PM

For the record I am not Father of 4 but I howled at the possibility. Thanks for making me laugh.

And to EAK -

Love your ideas (1:44 pm post) all of them. I don't have teenagers, am not a step-parent, and have healthy parents & in-laws, so I'm clueless, but I've heard enough bizarre stories from parents to know a bit what you are talking about. Can you send me an email with more detail about what you are dealing with, what you see other parents allowing, and why it drives you crazy? Thanks.

Posted by: Leslie Morgan Steiner | March 30, 2006 6:37 PM

I guess my only advice is to start by being really good at what you do. If an employer respects your work enough, they are likely to try to accomodate you, at least to some degree. My experience is that if your employer knows you are a good worker, responsible, reliable, efficient, productive, they are more likely to give you some flexibility to keep you on if you make it an issue because it would be easier than replacing you. To do that, you probably need to have a good track record with them. They are less likely to be that flexible with people who are new and have not yet proven themselves.

Posted by: cg | March 30, 2006 7:28 PM

LC: I was just relating what I found out about the company I work for. I don't understand why you think I was looking for approval. *shrug*

Posted by: Outer Fairfax | March 31, 2006 12:02 AM

Gloria: I just popped back in her for a minute. Wanted to say that I loved the idea of somehow involving Ms. Manners. She's terrific---very smart and a lot of fun.

Leslie: In addition to taking up some of the ideas that eak mentioned, which I also like, do you think it might be possible to host the occasional web chat w/ somebody who has a particular kind of expertise or experience that would be relevant?

Might be a way of keeping the blog fresh, although I must say there's been no shortage of interesting and entertaining things going on so so far. Still, chats would be interesting in themselves and would likely generate new ideas and commentary after they end.

Posted by: THS | March 31, 2006 1:08 AM

I work as a free-lance creative director. I took a huge drop in income but I now have a flexible schedule that allows me to spend more time with my 3 kids. The company I work with still gets exactly the same amount of work out of me and the quality is probably better because I am less poluted by office BS. Still the other day my "boss", a child-less woman of about 48, asked me to go to Hong Kong within one day's notice. I explained that this may be somewhat tricky,(childcare etc no need to explain on this blog).
Her response was:
"I may have to get someone younger and without kids to do your job."
I said "go ahead see if you can find her for your budget and with my expertise."
So far I have not been replaced, but I
now agree to travel and work twice as hard just to prove myself more.
Sound familiar?

Posted by: mother o twins | April 1, 2006 9:40 AM

I think that how and when you negotiate depends on your bargaining power. If the employer really wants to hire you for a particular reason, then before you start work is a great time to bargain.

I do think that flexibiity has to be a two way street. In other words, if the employer is flexible, then the employee should be flexible.

Thus, flex time, in which the start time is flexible but the amount of time is not is a win/win for both parties.

Having clear boundaries (at least 48 hours notice for an overnight trip, let's say) can work if you are willing to take the consequences if your boss does not agree.

I had a job where I got to work at 9-9:30 and left at 6/7 and my boss sent me a memo that day care centers opened by 7:30 and that I was expected to work by 8. I advised me that my children's school did not start until 8:30 a.m., that I was not going to change my childcare arrangements, and that I worked longer hours than most other staff, and that my ability to start at a flexible time was a prerequisite to my employment. That ended the discussion, but that was because I was very experienced and valuable.

I think it much harder for people with non-professional jobs or in different fields where other people depend on your being on time. For example, in the health care field, it is important that people report on time for their shifts -- or else someone has to stay late. Similarly, teachers may have the summers and school vacation days off, but they need to be on time to school.

Posted by: ES | April 2, 2006 12:29 PM

A small group of employees just asked for part-time work at my medium-sized software company, and we got it, but it wasn't easy - our manager was quite supportive (and has earned my loyalty for it), but it took several months to get final approval. Luckily we started asking about eight months before we needed it - two of us are expecting our second babies in about two months, and a third's husband will be ending his paternity leave about the same time the other two return to work. When they asked us to table the discussion for a few weeks while we got through a crunch, we all agreed, and I think that really helped our case - we showed that we still valued our work and the company. The company didn't have any other part-timers before us, but we have had a number of employees who have worked partly or fully remotely for family reasons, and I think this also helped.

I'm only speaking from my own experience, but I found the people who were most supportive of our desires were fathers, and the least supportive were mothers who had worked full-time since their children were babies, which makes me really sad. One woman I work with has two children and works full time and she's a fantastic mom with really great kids, and another friend is a stay-at-home mom with two wonderful kids too, and each one is happy where she is and would be totally miserable in the other's place. I'm choosing the middle road with my babies, and I'm thrilled with it. As long as we continue to fight with each other and judge each other, we're slowing ourselves down from taking actions that benefit all of us, like making sure we all have access to high-quality and affordable child care, health insurance for all our babies, and decent public schools.

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