Career How to Negotiate Your Work Schedule

In this Ask Millie, we help you find a better work-life balance.

By Nancy Trejos Illustration by Kirsten Ulve
PUBLISHED 01/17/2023 | 4 MINUTES

Q: I’m working 40-plus hours a week, juggling family duties and feeling overwhelmed. How do I negotiate a more flexible work schedule or less hours?

The idea of a 40-hour (or longer!) workweek is a firmly entrenched aspect of American life. So you’ll have to build a strong case for why you should work different—or shorter—hours than your colleagues. But there is hope. We’re in the midst of the “Great Resignation,” with millions of U.S. employees leaving jobs that aren’t fulfilling. Employers don’t want to lose good talent, so many are willing to negotiate everything from salary to work schedules. 

Before you hit your boss up with a request for more flexibility, here’s what to do: 

Suss out why your workload feels overwhelming. Do some self-reflection, says Amber Clayton, the Knowledge Center director at the Society for Human Resource Management. “Are you the only one working long hours?” she asks. “If so, are there things that you are doing that may be increasing your workload and work hours? For example, taking on additional projects or not delegating tasks?” Figuring this out will help you make changes yourself. 

Come up with a few win-win strategies. “Think about solutions that can help you and the business,” Clayton says. For instance, present a case for modifying your schedule to work around your family obligations while still fulfilling your work duties. At the same time, you can explain how less stress typically fosters more creative thinking. “Bringing ideas to the table—rather than just complaining about your workload—shows your commitment to the organization and flexibility in finding a resolution that works for both parties,” she says. 

Set up a face-to-face meeting with your manager. Don’t have this conversation via email or text, says Carolyn Greco, president and CEO of workplace consulting company FACET. Instead, schedule an in-person or video meeting, which can add a level of personalization. Begin by saying how much you enjoy working at the company and briefly outline your successes. “You always want to start off with the good things,” Greco says. Then, in an honest, professional way, express your concerns and ideas for change. These types of conversations with managers can feel nerve-wracking, but they are important. “They can’t help you if they don’t know you are overwhelmed,” Clayton says.

Be prepared to get ‘no’ as an answer. Keep the discussion cordial and maintain your composure even if it doesn’t go your way, says Greco. If you don’t get the answer you want, consider potential compromises to bring up in future conversations. And, if all else fails, remember that you always have the ability to find another job—and a work schedule—that’s a better fit for your life. “Hiring good talent is at an all-time high,” Greco says.

Nancy Trejos is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, the New York Post and more. She previously worked for USA TODAY, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press.

Millie content is licensed from Dotdash Meredith, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle, Investopedia, The Balance and more.


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