Jane is an accomplished attorney and mother of four. Her firm had a fairly conservative culture that lauded face time as one of the primary factors in evaluating its employees. The attorneys that put in long hours—in some cases over eighty hours per week—were praised for their hard work and dedication to the firm.
With four children at home, and ten years at the firm under her belt, putting in eighty-hour weeks wasn’t something Jane wanted to do. She proposed a “parat-time plan,” which had her working twelve-to-fifteen-hour days, three days aw eek, but also allowed more time for her family.
Because Jane was highly Productive and valuable assets—she held the bar in three states and knew a certain area of case law better than any other attorney in her firm—the managing partners agreed to her proposal.
Those extra two days at home gave her the opportunity to reinvigorate her relationship with her four boys while continuing to be a sufficient contributor to her family’s income. The plan was giving her the balance she wanted. During her three days at work, she was 100 percent focused on work—no long lunches, no personal errands or phone calls—and convinced that she was as productive in her three days as others were in their five, who had to use company time to take care of personal matters. She also kept a log of her accomplishments and made sure coworkers, bosses, and partners knew what and how much she was producing.
When it came time for the annual partnership meeting, Jane was fully expecting to make partner. She was still billing hours at a high rate and had recruited more clients in the past year, working part-time, than she had in any previous year with the company.
Instead, she was forced headlong into a battle, required to fiercely defend her part-time schedule from attacks at every pass. Management felt she’d accomplished great work, but outright refused to make her a partner unless she agreed to resume a full-time schedule. In their eyes, her part-time status was a threat to company culture—it would send a bad message to young attorneys if one of the firm’s partners was a “part-timer.”
One female partner took Jane’s schedule personally, as if it was some kind of personal affront to her lifestyle and abilities as a mom!
With firm mores bearing down, Jane stood her ground. She reemphasized her value and made it clear that time was her currency; after all, she’d been flawless on her side of their original bargain. Ultimately, she won her well-deserved partner status and maintained her three-day workweek.
Finding you work/life balance isn’t always easy. You may need to get creative, like Jane did. But what if you, like Jane, work in an environment where face time is very important? Perhaps your co-workers and your boss keep different hours than you: they could begin their day at 11 a.m. while you start yours at eight. If this is the case and you are determined to keep those unusual hours, like Jane, than here are a few tips to help you succeed.
- Understand resistance. Even those who wish you well, such as family and coworkers, have their own agenda; try to weather their resistance with grace and cheer. Your supervisor loves that you work such long hours and is less than delighted when you want to cut back. Your teammates thrive onyour daily presence and are thrown when you get the okay to work at home one or two days a week. Colleagues who don’t have children may resent you when you are given time off to care for them. It might be based on their own fear, their inconvenience, or their own conscious or unconscious wish to have a different balance for themselves.
- Stick to your guns. When you encounter resistance, you need to be flexible, yet strong. Make accommodations on the route, but no the destination. If you want to work a four-day week and your boss is skeptical, start by trying it every other week. Be extra energetic and prove that you can get it all done and more in four days. After a trial period, request to switch to the four day week permanently.
- Remember your value. One of the common reasons for resistance from managers is that they’re afraid of setting a precedent—if you’re permitted to work at home two days a week, suddenly everyone wants this privilege. In these circumstances, you must be clear on your value. Remind the manager of your contributions and your talent, expertise, and efficiency. This is the currency that earns you the accommodations.
- Focus. When you’re at work really concentrate; take no calls on family matters unless it’s an emergency. And when you’re with your kids, let your machine take messages. Compartmentalize, so that whatever you’re doing, you’re giving it your all.