10 tips to negotiate a flexible return to work

I’ve just written to my boss to discuss my return to work and negotiate some flexible working. Whilst I nervously await the results and their feedback, I thought I should share with you some tips on how best to negotiate a return to work if you are looking for some degree of flexibility. Massive caveat here… nothing has been agreed with my work yet, so I do not profess to be an ace at this, these are just tips I picked up from the web and asking others!

If you want some more tips or to speak to a HR or legal expert, then join the #Workitout forum. It’s a free space to chat to professionals and get advice and guidance on just this topic set up by Pregnant then Screwed and Mother Pukka.  It’s a fab little resource.

Black and white shoes(2)

  1. Make a plan in advance: Start thinking earlier rather than later what you want to do, yes I know you want to enjoy every moment of your maternity leave and time with your new baby, but I promise you getting a plan in place early will allow you to relax into motherhood. I’m having conversations with my employer now (with five months to go) but to be honest I wish I had done it even earlier, as I feel it has been hanging over my head for some time now.
  2. Think about what skills you offer to your workplace: Begin by clearly identifying the key skills and experience that make you valuable to your employer. If you’ve been away from the workplace for some time, identify what new skills you may have acquired during your maternity leave. After all there is nothing more valuable that someone who can multitask, get by on very little sleep, work all hours of the day for free and still nail it….(that’s you by the way!!) Pull out your recent appraisal forms and highlight your strengths, and what you have brought to the business during your time there. It’s time to showcase why you’re so great and how having you back on your terms is significantly better than not having you back at all.
  3. Ask lots of questions: Ask your employer or line manager about what has been agreed with other working parents and speak to other parents in your office to see what they are doing. Likewise talk to your friends to see what they are planning. You’re not the only person going through this. Almost all my friends are in the process of talking to their employers and we are all learning and sharing a lot.
  4. Think about the impact on others, not just on you and your family: Yes I know you are negotiating ‘your’ flexible working hours, but spend some time considering the potential impact of your working arrangement on your work colleagues and your boss. If you can show your boss you are doing what’s right for the business too, you will have a much easier conversation and also feel confident in the approach being a success.
  5. Write it down: Whether you end up speaking to your boss in person or not, whatever you do make sure you write it all down. This is a very important decision that will no doubt effect your future employment contract, best to get a written record of everything, even conversations over email that may seem irrelevant to the negotiations. This is especially important in case things go pear shaped and you need back up.
  6. Be open and honest: There is no point in saying what you think they want you to say and then later regretting it. Be honest and explain to your boss what you think you need for a good work/ life balance. Likewise if you feel your employer is being unfair tell them. This is no time to be a wall-flower.
  7. Don’t be afraid about not being as good as you used to: We all worry about imposter syndrome from time to time. Yes you have taken some time off, but you are still bloody good at what you do. Think about all the amazing new things you have learnt too. You are going to be just as good at your job as you were when you left (perhaps even better) so give yourself some credit.
  8. Don’t just expect they will just give you what you ask for: They don’t call it negotiating for nothing! You will of course express your requirements, but remember they will also express theirs. Make it clear that while you have a preferred option, you’re open to negotiation. Find a suitable middle ground and don’t be worried if there is a lot of back and forth. This is an important decision and you both need to be happy with the outcome. It’s ok to ask for more time to think too.
  9. Offer to do a trial: I think it’s important to recognise this is new for both parties and as such it will need to be evaluated after a period of time. Ask for ideally three to six months to give it a fair go, so that you can get settled back into work and prove to them that a flexible approach does work. Likewise give it a fair trial, two weeks isn’t going to prove anything to anyone!
  10. If all fails, why not try something new: If I have learnt anything whilst being on maternity leave, it is that maternity leave is a time to think. Sometimes it is a time to re-think your career too. Don’t feel like your old job is your only option. You have so much more to offer than that. You’re not under any obligation to stick with the organisation you left (obviously be aware of the rules around leaving and having to pay back your maternity pay). If your current role doesn’t end up working, perhaps it’s time to move. If you are looking for other options then there are a wealth of resouurces available to you such as CareeringIntoMotherhood, WorkingMums, WorkingFamilies and many more. Re-evaluating is never a bad thing especially if it makes you happier.

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