This week in the Mindful Return course, a mama raised an excellent question about how to actually make a reduced-hour or part-time schedule work. Here was her question:
When I return to work after maternity leave, I’ll be working reduced hours at the beginning. I’d like to actually work the hours I will be getting paid for. I know myself, though. I tend to do extra work if needed, but I also want to be fair to myself and to my family. Any suggestions?
This is a relevant question for so many people who work anything other than a so-called “full-time” schedule. Work often doesn’t fit into neat little boxes that can be stacked and neatly ordered each week. So how do we deal with the blurriness and complexities?
For purposes of today’s post, I’m going to put aside the question of whether to go on a reduced hours schedule. Instead, I’m focusing on how to make one work for you, if you’ve decided to be on one. In other words, I’m intentionally ignoring, for the moment, all of the complicated questions around “mommy tracking,” pay equity, gender bias, stigmas, and micro-aggressions. (Yes, I said micro-aggressions. I was once mocked as the “employee on a French schedule” when I worked a reduced-hour schedule at a law firm.) These other topics are for another day.
Today, let’s focus on how to make such schedules successful.
5 Tips for Starting a Reduced-Hour Schedule on the Right Foot
I spent 6 years working on a reduced hour schedule at a big law firm. The first 4 ½ years, I was on a 60% schedule (running Mindful Return in the other 40%). Then, I reduced my hours to 50% for the last 1 ½ years I was there. My advice and observations come from an experience of having a lot of flexibility about when I worked those hours, though I was responsible for making sure the overall percentage shook out properly.
Here are my 5 tips to the new mama who is transitioning back from maternity leave to a reduced hours schedule:
- Keep the Intentional Reflection and Awareness of the Issue Alive. The mama who posed this question is already paving a path for success with her new arrangement. She knows not to make assumptions about how it will work. And she is aware of her own tendencies, personality, and well-worn patterns. The key, for her, will be to keep up this inquiry and intentional reflection after she goes back. If you’re on a reduced-hour schedule, build in weekly and monthly check-ins on your calendar (even if only with yourself), to do an honest review of the number of hours you worked that week. Assess whether that number matched your expectations. Ask yourself why or why not.
- Clear and Repeated (and Repeated and Repeated) Communication with Your Team Helps. When I joined the firm on this reduced hour schedule, I asked the head of my practice group to send out a note at the beginning to let everyone know what my planned schedule would be. It helped me to have someone with more authority than I had let the world know about my plan. Then, moving forward, I was able to point people to his note, which had set an expectation about my work and boundaries. Also, over time, I learned not to be afraid of being clear and repeating my boundaries and schedule often. It turns out people forget. I had to remind myself that my schedule just simply wasn’t their priority.
- Be Flexible with Your Flexibility. Even before I reduced my hours at the firm, in a prior role I had negotiated work-from-home Fridays (in a pre-COVID world where that was unusual). I learned that the best way for this flexibility to succeed was to be flexible with it, though. When I was managing a project that required my presence on Fridays for a number of weeks, I shifted things to be in the office for that defined period of time until the project ended. On the flip-side, I learned to be more rigid with my agreed-upon schedule when it wasn’t an emergency.
- Consider Assessment Timelines. Think about what an appropriate review and assessment timeline is for you. Perhaps a week isn’t the right time period for measurement. But are things balancing out for you over the course of a month? Or a quarter?
- Find an Accountability Partner. In this mama’s quest to stick to the hours she’s getting paid for, I encouraged her to seek out an accountability buddy. This person could be a partner, a manager, or a friend. Whoever it is, simply having another person to account to on a periodic basis can help us both remember to assess the situation and also keep us honest in our accounting of it.
If you’re on or going on a reduced-hour schedule, view it as an experiment. One that can morph and change over time. And like life in general, it won’t be perfect at all times. I personally derived great joy from being able to wear the hats of lawyer, mom, and entrepreneur all in the same week, which would never have been possible for me without this reduced-hour option.
Other Related Mindful Return Posts You May Find Helpful
Flexibility and boundary-setting are always important topics in working parent land. Here are a few other Mindful Return blog posts you may find helpful on your journey:
- When Shutting Down Work Each Day is a Challenge
- Asking for Flex: It’s a Business Negotiation Not a Personal Favor
- A Mama’s Boundary-Setting Tutorial
- My Boss Said No to Flexibility, Now What?
Good luck to everyone navigating this terrain. If you have advice on what has led to success for you in your own reduced-hour schedule, please leave it below in comments!
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave