When you’re juggling a career, your kids and your aging parent, flexibility is what you crave most in your job.

Organizations that address work-family conflict and offer progressive family benefits are described as “family-friendly”. They help employees manage time pressures, provide formal programs to encourage family development and promote an informal culture that’s sensitive to family needs.

But what if you don’t happen to work at a company that has made it onto a Best Companies list? Are you doomed if your organization has no formal policies or programs that appear to support the family roles that you play now?

Not necessarily! Informal arrangements and support may just what you need to perform your job well and attend to your responsibilities as a member of the sandwich generation.

Key informal supports for you are day-to-day flexibility and supervisor and co-worker support. So even if your organization doesn’t have extended maternity leave, elder-care referral, official telecommuting options and job-sharing options, you can still explore possibilities with your manager and human resources department that would address your needs.

How to Negotiate a More Family-Friendly Arrangement

1. Identify what you most need.

What conflicts keep coming up for you? Is it the Thursday 4:30pm meeting that you scramble to attend? The number of open projects you have? The expectation that you work every Saturday?

Think about what you need in order to attend to all your roles well. You might need a different schedule, more flexibility to be gone for two hours during a weekday once in a while, fewer direct reports, more decision-making authority or a different work flow for certain projects.

Write down 2-3 ideas of changes that would make your life easier.

2. See what you can change on your own.

Look at your list of what changes you’d like to see happen. It’s possible that you can enact some of these immediately, and without entering into a negotiation that feels like a big deal.

You may be able to change some of your habits, assumptions and ways you communicate that will lower your stress considerably, without “officially” meeting with anyone! All you need is some creativity and a willingness to try out some new ways of doing things.

It also helps to run your ideas by someone else (who doesn’t work at your organization) for a “sanity check”. Often what seems like a near impossibility to you will look like a no-brainer to them. This is because you’ve been complying with the culture in your organization long enough to forget that there are other ways of getting things done.

One woman I worked with a while back tried making a few changes on her own and discovered among other things that she didn’t have to compose lengthy email replies at midnight, after all. She was willing to experiment with informally setting a few boundaries around her work time and was pleasantly surprised that the sky didn’t fall in.

3. Make your case easy for your employer to agree to.

Of course it’s likely that some of your ideas for change will require you to get buy-in. Many people I work with assume that all aspects of the status quo at work are very difficult to change, but in fact that frequently turns out not to be true.

What is essential for you to consider before taking your request to your manager is the business case for why it would make sense for your manager to say yes.

Think about the concerns your manager might have with your request, and before you talk with her, decide how you can alleviate them.

For example, if you’re proposing different hours, or to work from home two days per month or to delegate a certain project to someone else, or to change the weekly staff meeting to a different time, figure out how it will work before your talk to your manager. Talk with the rest of the staff to find a different day and time that works for everyone, figure out coverage for the hours you’ll be away, write down how your productivity will actually increase the days you work from home, and so on.

Your goal is to make it easy for the organization to say yes to your request. They will say yes if it makes sense from a business or organizational viewpoint (i.e., if it saves them rather than costs them money, if it results in increased productivity, and if it makes the team more efficient).

Obviously if you’ve been with the organization a while and are highly valued, you will be easier to say yes to, as well!

4. Be willing to experiment.

You may think you need a different schedule now but then discover in six months that it’s not helping you as much as you anticipated. You might believe that working from home will be the answer to all your problems just to find out that it’s making it even harder for you to get things done.

If you adopt a “test and learn” mentality to making your job more family-friendly, you’ll retain the agility you need to adapt to change. After all, change has become the hallmark of this stage of your life.

And frankly, change is the hallmark of many, many organizations these days. What works for you and your company now may not work well a few months from now. Be flexible and open to change, and you’ll be in a good mental space to renegotiate different family-friendly arrangements.

I’d love to hear: How is your work family-friendly?

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