From Full-Time to Part-Time
Job Title: Manager of Communications
Length of Maternity Leave: 12-weeks
Temporary or permanent part-time situation: Temporary
Child's name: Noah
"Sometimes I think wait, is society the problem or is it us? ::Gasp:: Are we perpetuating these crazy expectations? Out of fear of showing vulnerability or what could be perceived as weakness, we suffer in silence - especially as first-time moms. We take our frustrations and exhaustion out on our husbands (sorry honey!). Think about this: if more and more moms spoke up when they need a change at work or other parts of their lives, then society will just have to adjust. Hasn’t it had to do that historically? We can make it easier for future moms. It starts with you today. I’m with you. We’re with you."
Tell us about your experience returning to work from maternity leave
As much as I loved being able to stay home and cuddle baby all day long, I was actually somewhat ready and maybe even a little excited to go back to work. Why? Well, I love what I do. I know, it’s rare - but it’s true. I knew going back to work full-time wouldn’t be easy and I had been reading a lot on how to prepare, but nothing *really* prepares you until you actually start walking through it. Sure a few more months at home would’ve been great, but that’s not the world most of us live in. I certainly felt hesitant putting baby in daycare right away, so I was lucky enough to have my mother-in-law come and stay with us for a few weeks while I went back to work and tried to remember how to put on real clothes, walk in heels and put on a bit of make up. I felt good about showing baby that mama could do everything. Or so I thought…
What motivated you to explore the opportunity of a part-time work schedule?
There had been a lot of changes at work while I was on leave and on top of that, I was given more responsibility as soon as I returned. I also jumped right into a big team project where my help was needed. To be honest, at first - it felt good that I was needed. It made me feel like I was still valued in the workplace, but after being back at work for about six weeks - I started to fall apart. BAD. I was trying to do everything for everyone on top of being everything to everyone and started to feel like I was failing. I missed my baby. I needed sleep. Our weekends were filled with errands, laundry and chores. I needed quality time instead of busy time with my little family. I felt myself getting depressed. I was crying all of the time. Feeling anxious about the little things. I didn’t know why. I just felt sad and I just felt like I was failing. Co-workers would tell me, “Look at you! You just jumped right back in! Go mom!” The outward appearance was that I was holding it all together really well, but on the inside I felt awful. I knew something needed to change, but I just didn’t know what or how to start.
One Sunday afternoon I ran into an old friend at the store. She was with her 18-month-old son and I was picking up diapers. I hadn’t seen her since before she had her baby, but as soon as I saw her and she asked how I was doing - I started to break down. She encouraged me and told me that it would get easier. She also sent me a text the next morning and suggested that I talk to my employer about a flex schedule. I thought about it for a while since asking for that sort of thing wasn’t going to be easy. While my employer had also been great, this was new territory for both of us and I was unsure on how to even begin the conversation. Luckily, I’ve always had pretty good open communication with my boss. Now I just needed to muster the courage to talk about something our society needs to help improve so that parents and caregivers don’t feel like they’re asking for a favor and are scared.
Describe your work situation - the industry, culture, and whether or not part-time work had been historically available at your company.
I’m the Communications Manager for a non-profit organization and I have the honor and privilege of managing a team of 10+ of the most skilled, dedicated, passionate and kind people I have ever met. Part-time work (or even remote work) is available for certain positions, but never in a million years would I have thought that my particular position could be one where my employer would be willing to let me reduce my work week. I would’ve never dared suggest it myself.
How did you approach making the ask for part-time, and why do you believe you were successful?
With my friend’s encouragement, I first approached my boss telling him that I was realizing some things needed to change in order for me to continue to provide excellence. I strive for excellence in all things both professionally and personally, so I think it was a little bit of a shock to my boss that I was telling him I actually needed help. I told him that I didn’t know exactly what needed to change yet, but that as soon as I figured it out I would let him know. I think that visibly, he could see I was not ok. About a week later, I sent him an email proposing a change that I felt was fair to both my employer and my family. I communicated and reassured the organization of my dedication and desire to continue to do all things well. I also told my boss that I was 100% open to reevaluating in a few months and how important it was to me that whatever changes we made were mutually acceptable to both of us. After about a week or so, my boss asked me what I was really after and I was completely honest. I mean, what did I have to lose? He felt that my initial proposal still wouldn’t achieve what I was really after and actually suggested the unthinkable to me - reducing my work week. Being a parent himself, he told me to go home, think about it and give him my answer in a few days. The change would mean a reduction in my salary, but ultimately I was gaining something much more precious - time. In retrospect, I’m glad he gave me a few days to think about it. If I would’ve had to answer right then and there, I would’ve said no way. Just the initial thought of it made me cringe. But after taking a few days to think about it - the answer became crystal clear and my boss was right, I don’t regret it.
What are some of the best and most difficult elements of your new part-time work situation?
The best part of my current situation is the extra time I get to spend with baby and my husband. My husband’s work schedule during the week doesn’t really allow us any quality time since he leaves early before baby and I head out to daycare and work and he gets home pretty late after baby and I are home. With Fridays off, I can get a lot done which allows the three of us to have quality time making memories and having fun on Saturdays and Sundays.
It’s been about a month and a half since I started my reduced work week, but there were definitely two difficulties could feel right away; the salary reduction and cramming five days of work into four. Financially, we’re making it work. It’s not easy, but we’re managing for now. Work-wise, I’m managing. It might mean eating lunch at my desk most days or logging in after hours to catch up on a little email here and there, but so far it’s ok. Really, the hardest part is me thinking about what everyone else thinks. I was honest with my team when I told them that I was reducing my work week, so they know, but other than my immediate team and the executive team (who have always been incredibly wonderful and supportive of me) - I sometimes wonder what people think when they hear I’m out of the office. I try to tell myself that what I imagine in my head is worse than my reality. Really, that rings true in a lot of different areas of my life.
What advice would you give to someone considering making a request for a part-time role?
The hardest part is having the conversation with your employer. The truth is, what do you have to lose? What’s the worse they could say? “No, we don’t value you as an employee and don’t want to help you.” If that’s their answer, then you’ve probably needed to find a new job even before you had baby. Yes, as a society we need to do a lot more to help moms get back to work. We need transition plans that allow flexibility those first few weeks. We need to create an environment where moms don’t feel like they’re asking for a favor. This isn’t you asking for time off so you can go to the beach (though I fully support taking day for yourself once in a while!). You work hard. You're wired to work hard and prove yourself time and time again. You don’t do half-a$$ - in anything in life. You don’t know how. Tell your employer that. Tell them you want to give your best, but that in order to do that - you need their help to make a change. If they’re decent, they will value your honesty and your dedication to the company. You’re in the middle of a HUGE life adjustment and your life will continue to need adjustment while you find your groove in this wonderful and messy new life. Allow yourself time. It’s insane to me to think that we go through nine months of preparation, labor, recovery, three months of maternity leave (if you’re lucky) and that society expects us to just jump right back in as if everything is back to normal. It’s not. Our bodies aren’t back to normal and neither are our hearts, emotions or hormones. (Hello crazy hair loss!) Sometimes I think wait, is society the problem or is it us? ::Gasp:: Are we perpetuating these crazy expectations? Out of fear of showing vulnerability or what could be perceived as weakness, we suffer in silence - especially as first-time moms. We take our frustrations and exhaustion out on our husbands (sorry honey!). Think about this: if more and more moms spoke up when they need a change at work or other parts of their lives, then society will just have to adjust. Hasn’t it had to do that historically? We can make it easier for future moms. It starts with you today. I’m with you. We’re with you.
In closing, if I’m ever in a position to create positive change for new moms, dads and caregivers - I will. For now, I’m thankful for a husband that encourages me to do what I think is best, an employer that values me and my well-being, a community (The Returnity Project) that tells me I’m not alone and a baby boy who continues to inspire me in ways I never knew were possible.