- Insider’s latest work-advice column is about a mom who wants to go down to a four-day workweek.
- She worries she’ll regret not spending enough time with her kids but also fears for her career.
- Both concerns are legitimate. Here’s what a Stanford labor economist advises.
I’m a senior leader in my company and a mother to three youngish kids. I love my job, but I’m struggling with the push-pull between work and home. I feel like I’m missing my kids’ lives and I don’t want to have any regrets on my deathbed.
I’m considering asking my boss if I can work four days a week. I can technically afford it — though making 20% less would put a dent in my family’s budget, but the idea of having an extra day to just be a mom and get stuff done at home sounds blissful.
But I also worry, is it career suicide? My boss is a workaholic. I’m afraid she’d be supportive to my face, but mentally write me off. I really wanna keep my career going, and I have aspirations of moving onto something bigger and better in the future. Would that be an option if I worked four days?
I don’t know how to begin to make this decision. What should I do?
Navigating the demands of a full-time job and parenthood is not easy.
Indeed, many working parents, myself included, wrestle with the same challenges you’re describing, perhaps more so now than ever. The pandemic has served as a potent reminder that life is short, and it’s prompted many people to reconsider their lives and careers. Some are making big changes when they realize that what they have is not what they want.
It makes sense that you want to ask your boss about moving to a four-day workweek to maintain your mental well-being and spend more time with your kids. Your efforts to ward off “deathbed regrets” are real. Then again, your concerns that the request might hurt your professional prospects are also real: Research suggests that colleagues and managers tend to view mothers and pregnant women as less competent and less committed to their jobs, in what’s known as maternal-wall bias.
So how do you decide whether to raise the topic with your boss? And if you go for it, how do you ask? For answers, I talked to Myra Strober, a labor economist and professor emeritus at Stanford University who’s cowritten a new book called “Money and Love: An Intelligent Roadmap for Life’s Biggest Decisions.”
Strober says it depends on where you are in your professional life and your tenure at the company. If you’re in the early stages of your career or relatively new to the organization, your bargaining power is rather weak. You haven’t built up enough credibility, and your request is unlikely to get approved.
In that case, she suggests easing some burdens at home to stay clear-headed on the job. You could, for instance, use some of the 20% of your salary you’re not losing to outsource food shopping, cleaning, or tutoring. And talk to your partner, if you have one, and your kids, if they’re old enough, about doing more around the house.
But if you’ve been at the company for several years, are a tried-and-true member of the team, and are already well thought of, you have a greater chance of being successful. And asking for a reduced schedule might not hurt your career in the long term — as long as you go about it smartly.
Strober recommends drawing up a one-pager that details how everything you do at work will still get done. You can’t do it all yourself, of course, so you need to explain how your duties will be distributed. Your salary cut could allow the company to sprinkle around those funds to others, for instance.
Second, demonstrate your flexibility. If your boss needs you to work on a Friday when you’re supposed to be off, you should be willing to do that, Strober says. (Bear in mind, though, that if you come in on the occasional Friday, it’s unlikely you’ll be paid, so you must be really and truly sure you can manage on 80% of your income.)
Indicate, too, that the new schedule isn’t permanent. You might say you plan to do this for a year or that you and your boss can revisit the arrangement within three months.
How you broach the subject with your work-obsessed boss depends on your relationship.
Presumably, your supervisor knows you’re a parent and that you have a lot of responsibilities on the home front. Strober suggests saying something like, “I know that you prioritize work over just about everything. I appreciate that and I appreciate you. But that’s not in the situation I’m in right now.”
“Sometimes workaholics are more sympathetic than you think,” she said.
Whether you decide to make the pitch to your boss is ultimately a personal decision. You need to weigh your money and career ambitions against your desires to have more time for your family. Take your time and think hard about the consequences, but also know that no decision is perfect.
Down the road, you may not be able to eliminate regret, but you can minimize it, Strober says, adding that you can remind yourself: “I did the best I could.”