Negotiating workplace flexibility: it’s all about timing and circumstances.
This is a guest blog for Career-Mums from negotiations expert Mark Davis.
Quite possibly the toughest challenge women face when deciding to return to their careers is the difficulty of trying to negotiate more flexible terms of (re)employment; on the proviso that those are the sustained terms you desire, of course. While much of the difficulty in asking, at all, is psychological and emotional, this status is only compounded by the fact that all too often women and men do not feel in charge of the negotiating process and that they, therefore, are dealing with the employer from a position of weakness (for any number of reasons). This has the knock on affect of meaning women often feel they cannot/should not even dare attempt to negotiate the terms of the offer received.
Take Catherine, who features in our blog post “Skills and strengths What’s the Difference and Why it Matters“, she has the skills and strengths that align with the role she wants and the employer acknowledges the value she would accordingly bring.
Now the uncomfortable part.
The employer wants to offer you the job, full time, as advertised. She wants it too but prefers to do 2 full days a week and another 2 half days. What should she do? I would urge against accepting the job with the hope of re-negotiating terms at a later juncture. I would also resist the temptation for convincing the other party that you’ll be able to do 5 days work in only three. The answers we seek come from realising we have to face a different question: ‘what should she have done differently, even before receiving the offer?’
When having to think on your feet in this situation, time pressure and the circumstances with which you are faced will usually work against you (e.g. I have to accept this job as I haven’t had any other interviews and it will ease financial strain; I’ll find a way to do this and look after the family too). The balance of power is not in your favour as you have not created the right circumstances for a more successful outcome.
Below are 5 tips that will improve your chances of redressing that balance and getting the flexible employment terms you want:
1. Sow seeds
By this I mean that you should be managing your expectations with your employer constantly, periodically, even before you go on maternity leave.
2. Do your homework
When the time comes, understand as best as you can what is motivating the employer to consider you as a candidate (this is not the same as selling your strengths and skills).
3. Tell more than ask
On the basis that you have adhered to steps 1 and 2, telling the employer what you want will be received as a professional request rather than an emotional demand.
4. Have more than one move
Your opening position should be exactly that, the opener…be prepared to concede, reluctantly.
5. Shop for viable alternatives
Nothing will give you greater confidence to hold out for what you want than knowing you have 2 or 3 more viable options on which you can fall back.
Ultimately the employer has got to show, by way of action aligned with strategic intent, that it is embracing the notion of greater flexible working arrangements. If it does not, look elsewhere! If you are having to continuously sell this idea to them at various points, but particularly during the interview or at offer stage, the chances are you will be unsuccessful. Or perhaps worse, you will convince them to hire you only to end up working somewhere that does not truly value you. Both parties end up unhappy.
The emotional strain of being a new parent is often huge and going back to your career should not compound this too. The tips may seem like an extra chore at a time when, quite rightly, your focus will be on the family. So, consider utilising points 1 and 2 little and often during your months/years away from the coalface. These points are suggested as a means of giving you more control over when and how you go about reigniting your career and will help to reduce that stress.
You can be more in charge than you think!