Ellen Celarek’s top priority is
her kids. So, when looking for a job, she makes
family-friendly work a priority, too.
With flexibility in mind, Celarek, of
Schaumburg, Illinois, found employment that lets her work
at home part time, often during the hours of her choice.
"My job fits perfectly with my schedule," she
says. "I can take the kids
to the doctor or help out at school when I want."
Many people today are seeking flexibility
at work. Parents, like Celarek, may want more time for
family. Students hope to fit employment into a busy class
schedule. And some people look for work after retirement.
Whatever their situation, they’re not alone in wanting a
job that’s a better match for their lives.
The following pages explain some options
for gaining greater control over your worklife. The first
section gives general advice on how to make a current job
more flexible—or how to find a more flexible one. The
next three sections identify options that will let you
work less, work at home, or work alternative hours; each
talks about specific arrangements, their pros and cons,
and how to
get them. Sources for more information are provided at the
end of the article.
Would you like to work
fewer hours, set your own schedule, or work at home? Read
here about some of the options for balancing your job with
Work on your terms
Everyone has preferences regarding
flexibility and work. For some, the ideal flexibility
might mean bringing an infant to work for onsite
childcare. For others, it might mean choosing the types of
tasks that they do. Still others might seek a career that
lets them leave their job for a while, then return later
without having to take a cut in pay or seniority.
Your own preferences for flexibility and
the types of jobs you’ll consider may depend on personal
needs, skills, educational background, and other factors.
But whatever your circumstances, there are some general
ways to enhance the flexibility of your work, either by
making a current job more flexible or by changing to a
more accommodating one.
Start with your current job
If you’re already working, ask your
employer if your position can be adapted to fit your
needs. Before talking to your boss, however, prepare to
make a strong case for how flexibility benefits your
employer as well as yourself.
Start by looking into flexible work
options and your employer’s policies on their use. Find
out if other employees have successfully used the
arrangements that interest you. And for arrangements that
involve cutting back on work hours, talk to the human
resources department to learn how your benefits might be
After gathering some facts, write up a
formal proposal to present to your supervisor or whoever
has the authority to agree to the change. A strong
proposal explains how the arrangement will work and what
its advantages are. It anticipates concerns that a
supervisor or manager might have, such as coordinating
staff meetings around a flexibly scheduled worker—and
then presents solutions, such as an agreement to go to the
office on days when meetings are held. (For a sample
work-at-home proposal, see the box on the facing page.)
Lois Backon, of the Families and Work
Institute in New York, suggests giving your supervisor
specific options. "People like choices, managers like
choices," she says. "They like to be presented
with solutions that work for both the employee and
employer." In addition, Backon suggests offering to
try the arrangement as a pilot program or for a specified
time and then meeting to discuss how it is going and
whether it should continue.
Not all positions can accommodate flexible
arrangements, and not all employers are willing to try
them. But if your current job isn’t suited for
flexibility, you might be able to find another one that
Get a different job
If you need to change jobs to meet your
requirements, you’ll discover that looking for a
flexible position is much like looking for any other type
of position. The difference is that you make flexibility a
priority, just as you might emphasize salary or location.
Michael Smyer, professor of psychology at
Boston College’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in
Boston, gives jobseekers looking for flexibility the same
advice he gives to any jobseeker. "You have to answer
three questions," says Smyer, also the co-chair of
the school’s Center on Aging and Work. "First, what
about work do you really like? Second, what are you good
at? And third, who’s going to pay you to do this?"
Later, address how to make the work flexible and which
employers and types of jobs are likely to be adaptable.
Finding flexibility. Sometimes, a job
search is easier if you start with what you know. This
approach worked for Doris D’Errico of Youngstown, Ohio.
Before retiring as a registered nurse, D’Errico asked
her employer to rehire her in a more flexible position.
Now, as a per diem nurse, she works for the same hospital
but has greater control over the days she works. And her
job matches the lifestyle she wanted in retirement.
"I can basically work at my pleasure," she says.
"The best part is that I’m retired, but I can still
remain active in work I’m familiar with."
Other times, you might want to consider a
new line of work or a new employer. Celarek, for example,
worked in the travel industry before starting a family.
When her job no longer accommodated her desired schedule,
she left it and eventually switched to a field—and an
Flex-friendly workplaces. Some employers
are known for allowing flexibility. The Federal Government
is one employer that lets many of its workers participate
in flexible work options. Rankings of the best workplaces,
such as those for working parents or for information
technology workers, can help you identify other employers
who excel at offering flexibility.
But many employers not found on rankings
also provide the possibility for flexible work. Employer
recruitment materials, including Web site career sections,
often indicate when employees are eligible for certain
flexible arrangements. Another way to determine an
employer’s flex-friendliness is to inquire directly. You
might, for example, ask during an interview about the
organization’s work-life benefits.
Remember, however, that employers seek
candidates who are qualified for the job and whose main
focus is work—not flexibility. For this reason, experts
caution that jobseekers wait until after they’re offered
a job to ask a prospective employer if they can work at
home or for other flexible benefits. And keep in mind that
many employers require new employees to complete a
probationary period before they are eligible for flexible
scheduling or part-time work.
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