Should I put in writing my request to go part time?

by Staff - Original publish date: December 5, 2011

Q. After having 12 weeks off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a newborn baby, I have decided to reduce my work hours from 40 to 30 per week. However, I am a bit uneasy about negotiating for the time.

I have worked for this company for three years (I have over a decade of experience). On all of my past reviews I have been given the highest rating. I live in an area with very low unemployment and great demand for skilled employees, which will work in my favor when I negotiate for the time, but I am unsure of how to go about it.

Should I begin by writing up a proposal, detailing my purpose for reducing my hours, and assuring my manager that my department will still be able to get the work done? This would allow my manager to ponder it before I confront him. Or should I outline what I am after and simply speak with him? Please advise me on the most professional way to go about getting what I want...two extra hours per day.

A. It's too soon to formalize your request by means of a written proposal. This negotiation needs to start with a well planned conversation. Tell your manager that as much as you love to working at the company, you would like to spend more time with your newborn baby. But first, help your employer solve the business problem this may create.

It is in your best interest to demonstrate, if you can, that your reduction in hours will not have an adverse impact on the company. Your tenure in the company helps, because you are already fully proficient in your job. Be careful to avoid creating the impression that your parenthood entitles you to work part-time. You are presenting your employer with the problem of a potential disruption in the quality or the flow of work. Help anticipate and solve this problem, and your case will be strengthened. If your hours are reduced, some work may be transferred to your coworkers, so be considerate of them when you speak to your manager.

If your job involves heavy travel or interaction with clients in a different time zone, it may be more difficult to make your case. An employer may be better off finding someone who can be gone for a few days at a stretch, or on site early in the morning or late in the evening.

If someone is brought in to make up the additional hours, don't be surprised if it starts to feel as if that person has taken over your job, as your coworkers and clients begin to look to that person as the primary person in the job. And don't expect to be rewarded at the same level as the person who picks up the slack.

For many part-time workers, it makes sense to be classified as nonexempt and paid on an hourly basis. See if this makes sense for you and your employer, to ensure against your working 40+ hours and being paid for only 30 - or, from your company's perspective, to guard against your working less than 30 hours.

You will no doubt lose some benefits by working part-time. Before you define your work week, check to see how your various benefits plans define "full time" for the purposes of coverage. For example, your health insurance provider might cover all employees who work at least 32 hours a week.

If your company cannot offer you a reduction in hours, then look for a compromise. Will the company be willing to let you work from home? If your company has a policy on telecommuting or flex time, you might be able to work at home part of the time without reducing your hours. Flexibility in a negotiation can help you find a win-win.

If for some reason your manager is not receptive to the idea of your working from home, speak to the HR department. Ask whether there has been any discussion on this issue with management, and whether there are good chances of such a policy ever being enacted in your company. If some people in the company are against the idea, find out who they are and see if you can lobby for their support.

Good luck.