We all have things we would love to ask for at work -- a raise, a promotion, every other Friday off. But no matter how much we think we've earned it, there's that little issue of how to convince our higher-ups that they should agree.
Carolyn Weinberg went through this after the birth of her first child. Weinberg had a very demanding job, and a career she truly cared about. She had launched the sales division of Quartermaine Coffee Roasters in Rockville. For the first year of parenthood, she tried to do the juggling thing. First, she cut her maternity leave short because she didn't feel comfortable taking the entire seven weeks off. Then she ended up taking her baby daughter with her to appointments. Nothing really worked. She was left with the feeling that she was not able to spend much quality time with her baby.
"I really felt I was missing out on things she was doing," Weinberg said. "Something had to change, because I wasn't completely happy. I loved my job, but really love my child, and that comes first."
So Weinberg and her husband, who travels a lot for his sales job at another company, sat down to discuss a possible part-time schedule for her. She talked about the ins and outs of a flexible schedule with several friends, then read articles and did some research. She figured out the exact schedule she would like: She wanted to take Mondays and Fridays off to be with her baby, but she could also be available those days if her company needed her.
With some feelings of guilt, and perhaps a desire to ease into the new schedule, Weinberg petitioned Quartermaine President Roger Scheumann for exactly what she wanted. "I felt like, if I am going to do this, I should ask for what I want," she said. So she did, explaining why she wanted Mondays and Fridays off, and she requested a start date. Perhaps more important, she explained how this would work for the company and for her. She outlined how her staff would be covered on her days off, and how she could be reached on those days. Then she crossed her fingers. "I knew they valued me in the company and wouldn't want me to leave, but I didn't know if they would agree."
It was about three months before she was allowed to decrease her schedule.
Weinberg was the first employee that Scheumann had hired in 1993. So they had a history when she proposed her idea. He knew she cared a great deal about the company and her career. And yet he didn't approve the schedule right away. "It did take weeks to say yes. It was a new concept. It was outside the scope of what I was familiar with," he says today.
He was concerned that if Weinberg took two days off each week, the company's needs would not be met. Because she worked in sales, her job had a direct impact on the bottom line. He was worried that a part-time schedule might mean less revenue.
Weinberg explained to him that it wasn't about the actual hours worked, but about the quota. "I know this business, and I know myself. I'm not going to let something not get done," she said. "I told them I know this can work. I know how I am. If there's a huge project or something else, I'll make myself available. I think I kind of threw them for a loop."
That she did. At 30, Weinberg was the first one in the then-small company to have children. She felt as if she were breaking Quartermaine in.
What was it about her proposal that eventually worked for Scheumann? "She was very prepared and she knew what she wanted," he said. It also helped that she had already shown the company just how hard she worked and how dedicated she was to the organization.
Scheumann has no regrets. In fact, the company has started to implement a free-day policy, under which employees can take time off not designated just for vacation or sick days, and has let others work on flexible schedules, including an account manager who leaves at 3 p.m. every Monday to attend school.
If Scheumann has advice for any employee who wants to ask for something, it is to do the homework and understand the context, the business climate. "They need to have thought through what they want, and they need to know how it's going to work for them and work for the company," he said.
Weinberg took a chance, one that she needed to take. That chance not only gave her the ability to spend time with her child, it also taught the company something.
She "has worked hard to make sure that there's a good balance between personal and professional needs," Scheumann said. And "when the needs of the company do dictate that she needs to put in more time, there's no question -- she does." As a reward, the company was able to keep a valuable employee.
Weinberg has changed her schedule so she leaves at 2 p.m. on Mondays, and she still has Fridays off. Since her first schedule shift began six years ago, she has been promoted to vice president.
She also is now the mother of three.
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