Work and Family: Creating a Family-Friendly Work Arrangement

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If you are having trouble balancing work with a new baby, you are not alone. Most new parents find their schedules and their energy overburdened by the competing needs of their jobs and their families.

One of the best strategies for balancing work and family is to adjust your schedule. If you want to stay home with your baby while keeping a foot in your career, perhaps you can work part time or job share until your child starts school. If you are a nursing mother, maybe you can work from home so that you can continue to breastfeed. Or if you want to work but don't want anyone other than a parent to care for your child, perhaps you and your partner can both switch to part-time or flextime schedules so that one of you is always home.

Some Typical Work Arrangements

Your imagination and your employer's flexibility are the only real limits on what you can do, but to get you started, the following are some common arrangements:

  • Telecommuting. Just a fancy word for working at home. You'll still be considered a full-time employee, and you'll still keep your full salary and benefits. The only difference? You can go to work in your pajamas, while your child watches Sesame Street in the next room. (To learn more about telecommuting, see Nolo's article Working From Home: How To Telecommute.)
  • Flextime. A schedule that you mold to your needs, so long as you work the required number of hours. For example, if you normally work from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., flextime would allow you to begin work at 7 a.m. and leave work at 4 p.m. -- leaving you enough time to pick your baby up from day care and get dinner started before the sun sets.
  • Compressed workweek. A schedule that squeezes five days of work into four (or even fewer) days. For example, suppose you currently work eight hours a day, five days a week. With a compressed workweek, you might work ten hours a day, four days a week -- getting a day off each week without taking a pay cut.
  • Job sharing. Splitting one job between two people. There's no set formula for job-sharing arrangements. In some cases, job-share partners divide the work week, with each person working two and a half days a week. In other cases, job-share partners divide the work that needs to be done, instead of the time that needs to be worked.
  • Part time. Working fewer hours and receiving less pay than a full-time commitment. For example, you might choose to work three days a week instead of five and receive 60% of your usual salary.

Getting Your Employer to Agree

The key to getting your employer to agree to a family-friendly work arrangement is to do a little legwork before making your request. Here are the steps to take:

First, see what family-friendly work options your employer already offers. Talk to your coworkers, check with your human resources department, and review your company policy manual.

Second, decide what type of work arrangement you want. Don't expect your employer to come up with a solution for you. Instead, carefully evaluate your own needs and your employer's needs and craft a plan that will work for you both. It may be that your company already offers the work arrangement you have in mind. However, you don't have to limit yourself to tried-and-tested arrangements. Many parents have successfully made arrangements that their employers have never attempted before.

Third, put together a detailed proposal for your ideal work arrangement. Unless your employer has a well-established part-time or flextime policy that requires no special approval, you'll need to write a plan that will tell your employer the following:

  • the hours and days you plan to work
  • the job responsibilities you will be able to handle during this time
  • the salary and benefits you are seeking
  • how you can be reached if an issue arises during a time when you are not in the office
  • if you plan to telecommute, the child care and home office arrangements you have made and the number of days you plan to work from home
  • if you are requesting a job-sharing arrangement, the name and qualifications of your proposed job-share partner (include a resume if you can) and the specific details of how you will break up your job responsibilities, and
  • why the family-friendly work arrangement you are proposing is in your employer's best interests.

Make sure the plan is businesslike and focuses on your employer's needs, not your own. Point out that a family-friendly work arrangement is also good for your employer. According to recent research from the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit organization that addresses work-life issues, employees who enjoy family-friendly work arrangements are more engaged in their jobs, more committed to helping their company succeed, more likely to plan on staying with their employer, and more satisfied with their jobs. In fact, 46% of companies that offer flexible work arrangements report a positive return on their investment in these programs. You can learn more at the Families and Work Institute's website at www.whenworkworks.org.

For more information about the pros and cons of possible family-friendly work arrangements, and for help on deciding which type of arrangement will work for you, get Parent Savvy: Straight Answers to Your Family's Financial, Legal & Practical Questions, by Nihara Choudhri (Nolo).

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