Heather’s post on the danger of off-ramps generated some fascinating conversations, many centered around the last few lines where she encouraged readers not to leave their jobs.
Here’s a simple truth: Many women feel like they have no choice but to quit. In fact, a friend of mine who’s currently on maternity leave with her first baby is struggling mightily with whether or not to go back to her very demanding job when her maternity leave ends. Making matters more difficult, she’d be returning to work smack in the middle of her job’s busy season, where she would be expected to be at her desk roughly 50+ hours per week. That’s tough, my friends, no doubt about it. That is a really ugly choice.
So today, we’re trying to ferret out some other options. This post is for everyone who is seriously considering opting out. Here’s our list of suggestions for what to do before you quit your job. Deep breaths, everyone. Ready? Let’s do this.
1. Brainstorm on whether there’s any accommodation that could make you stay. Be as creative as possible.
If you are considering leaving your job altogether, spend some serious quality time thinking about what might convince you to stay. If you’re reading this, you are probably familiar with my opinion that dropping to a part-time schedule often doesn’t work. But there are so many more possibilities!
What about time shifting your schedule so you get in early and leave late (and miss a lot of the traffic if you have a commute)? You and your spouse might need to compromise (he takes mornings + dropoffs, you take afternoons + pickups). You might need to change some of your pre-baby patterns (new bedtime, earlier wakeup, no more HBO marathons on Tuesday nights). We’re seeing this a LOT more these days – and not just employees with family obligations. This option seems to have a lot of potential, without much of the stigma attached to other options.
Here are some other ideas, all of which seem pretty workable to us:
- Work from home every other Wednesday.
- Leave at 4:30 p.m. every day, with the understanding you will work two additional hours from home in the evenings after your children are in bed.
- Consider job sharing with your work BFF (which, anecdotally, works a hell of a lot better than going part time).
We are just scratching the surface here. Think long and hard about your life, your job, and the particular difficulties that you face, then think about whether there’s any small or moderate shift that would alleviate some of your pain.
You are a parent, which means you are good at creative solutions. Really stretch yourself here and see what you come up with. And through the brainstorming process, keep this in mind: if you’re good at your job, there’s at least a fighting chance that your boss would rather try to work something out with you than have to hire and train your replacement.
2. Do your homework, build your case.
Once you’ve figured out a solution that might work for you, do some research and try to come up with a compelling case for why your proposal will work and how it will benefit the company.
Is there someone else in your organization who is doing this (or some version of it) successfully? Go talk to him or her, and to the managers who approved it, and get some actual feedback and information to transmit to your own manager. Precedent is powerful.
If you don’t have precedent, you must get some data. Do whatever research you can, and ultimately quantify what you can contribute – particularly in terms of work effort, efficiency, and delivery. Here are a few places to start:
3. Ask for what you want without apologizing.
Your demeanor matters.
Set up a meeting with your boss to discuss only this issue (which will telegraph how serious you are about the ask). During the meeting, don’t act as if you’re asking for something outrageous (even if you are), or something you don’t deserve (even if secretly you think you don’t). You need to put on your game face. Be super polite and tactful, but completely unapologetic. Remember, there’s a good chance your boss will prefer to work with you rather than replace you!
To make your proposal more palatable, think about offering it up as a “trial” solution, with the understanding that you and your boss will reevaluate it together in three months or six months (or whatever). This gives you time to prove how badass you are at making the new arrangement work.
4. Remember that you have nothing to lose.
If the option of flat-out quitting your job is seriously on the table for you, then you have absolutely nothing to lose by asking for the thing(s) that will help you stay in your job. Full stop.
5. If your boss agrees, congratulate yourself on an excellent negotiation, then own your decision 100%.
Heather and I both have the tendency to be people pleasers. In fact, most people who are successful in an office setting have this tendency – being perceived as a “team player” is often necessary to advance in traditional corporate America.
You’re going to have to let go of some of that, because not all of of your coworkers will be pleased with your new arrangement. That’s reality. You will get the side-eye. And this matters; optics matter. But if your boss is on board, and you’re on board, then you have the buy-in from those who really matter. Let the rest go.
When I initially debated asking for an alternative work schedule at my former company, my very wise friend and coworker said to me, “You’re going to have to choose what’s more important to you: having a happier, more balanced daily life, or preserving your excellent reputation here.” He was dead on, and for me, that trade-off was unquestionably worth it. But as always, we believe strongly that you should go in with eyes wide open. So please, know and understand that among some coworkers, your professional reputation will take a hit.
Be prepared for that. And own your new arrangement.
6. If your boss does not agree, consider leaning out a little bit.
(Here’s where we torpedo our own chances of ever getting traditional jobs again. Oh well.) So you’ve made your proposal and your boss shot it down. Ugh, that is such a bummer. But please don’t give up yet; we have a little more hard-earned, from-the-trenches advice to dispense.
Heather and I are both, by and large, very rule-oriented, self-motivated, and hard working. We care immensely about doing our jobs very well. I think we can all agree that not everyone is like this. And we can probably also all agree that those people with the more relaxed work ethic do just fine at their jobs.
Consider being one of those relaxed people for a while. Just get by for a bit, don’t try to be a superstar. I’m not going to say “phone it in,” but… well… maybe phone it in for a month or two.
Yes, yes, yes, I can hear your protests now: that will damage your career! It will ruin the reputation you’ve worked so hard to build!
That’s probably all true, but do you know what else is going to damage your career and derail your professional reputation? Quitting your job.
7. Consider getting more help (whether paid or in trade).
For many women, along with the high-achieving and the people-pleasing traits comes a compulsion to handle as much as possible on the homefront themselves. You need to let go of that, too.
I am the worst offender on this one. For several years while my children were both in daycare, and I simply would not consider outsourcing anything else to do with their care. I hated hiring babysitters, even for a Saturday night.
This is all a very long-winded way of saying you should examine your schedule and your budget and see if there’s something you can outsource to remove stress and pain from your normal schedule. Alternatively, if there is a household task that is driving stress into your relationship, is it possible to get someone else to do it for a cost that feels ok to you?
Finally – just consider asking other parents to trade and balance out the work. As an example, I have a friend whose son does Tae Kwon Do on Tuesdays and Saturdays with his buddy from school. My friend arranged for the other mom, who is at at-home parent, to pick up the boys from school and drive to Tae Kwon Do class on Tuesdays, and my friend handles Saturday classes. Small change, BIG impact.
8. Consider searching for another job, or freelancing.
If your boss declines your proposal, maybe your current job really will not work for you. That utterly sucks, and we feel for you.
But before you quit, look around and see whether there’s another job somewhere else in your industry that might work for you. We know job hunting is boring and a pain, but remember that job hunting after some time out of the workforce is going to be worse. We wish that wasn’t true, but it is.
Alternatively, maybe your skill set lends itself to freelance work. If so, it’s definitely worth trying. We can pretty much guarantee that a stretch of “self-employed” or “freelance” on your resume looks better than a stretch of unemployment.
9. A special note about maternity leave.
Oh dear readers, if any of you are struggling with this choice while on maternity leave, our hearts ache for you especially. It is so, so hard to consider leaving that gorgeous, precious baby with someone else while you head off to work.
If you know for sure you want to be an at-home mom, we say go for it. That is the most fulfilling choice in the world for a lot of people.
But if you are on the fence, even just a little bit, here is our very hard-won advice: Don’t make a decision to quit your job while you’re on leave. Go back to work for at least two months, and then decide.
There are two big reasons for postponing the decision. First, if you’re still on maternity leave you are probably completely and totally exhausted, plus very likely hormonal and kind of emotional. We say this with empathy – we have BEEN THERE. This is not a good place from which to make a very serious decision. When I was on maternity leave, most days I was too bleary-eyed to decide between heating up soup or pasta for dinner, much less navigate a major career decision.
Second, while you’re on leave, you’re trying to make a choice without having all the data. You just don’t know for sure what it’s going to be like to be a working mom. But after you’ve been back for a couple of months and settled into a routine, you may find it’s more manageable than you expected, or far more difficult than you expected. Either way, the decision becomes more clear-cut.
10. When it comes to your career, play a long game.
The unfortunate reality is that opting out temporarily comes with big, serious consequences. As Heather detailed so beautifully and painfully, taking the off-ramp means career damage at a minimum, with the possibility you may not be able to get back into the workforce at all.
So with that in mind, don’t just focus on how you’re going to navigate the next six months, or the next year. Think about where you want to be in five years. In ten years. And think about whether anything we’ve suggested above can help you to hang on a little longer.
And remember, our offer to buy you a glass of wine and listen to your troubles is always open.
With much love and solidarity,
Erin and Heather
*Do you know where Heather’s sage advice to hire more help came from? The ULTIMATE AWESOME manager of all time… both Heather and I worked for her, and we have now concluded that we should have followed each and every bit of advice she gave like it was gold descending from the heavens. This is the third time we’ve referenced her in our work-life balance posts. We love her. We hope she knows that.