How to Negotiate Work Life Balance When Job Hunting

From setting up creative work schedules like coming in early, working from home, after bedtimes, Moms from the PSP Working Mothers group talk tips about how to find, negotiate and juggle the Work/ Life Balance.




As one mom asks the PSP Working Moms group...

"I'm looking for some advice from other working moms regarding the best way to discuss life/work balance when looking for a new job. I have a 8-month old daughter, and I've been back at work since January. I haven't been happy with my job for a couple of months now, and I'm in the process of looking for a new one. I've been talking to different companies, but I'm still not sure how/when to discuss the fact that I need to leave work at 5pm every day to go pick up my daughter at daycare, for example. Last time I looked for a job I had no limitations whatsoever so this is all very new to me. I just finished reading "Lean In" (which I'm sure some of you might have read) and after reading it I'm convinced it is absolutely something I need to talk about with potential employers, I'm just not sure how to bring it up and especially how to frame it. Any thoughts / suggestions / advice?? I'd love to hear other people's experiences!"




“I am in a similar boat.  I have a slightly different take though.  I think the questions you want to be asking and trying to feel out in this process are around organizational culture and work/life balance.  I would not bother with a conversation about a 5pm departure right now.  The real question is around how this company values their employees and balance.  People have various reasons they need to end their day at 5pm, children or not.

I think you have to take into consideration the type of work, the time sensitivity, and the organizational culture broadly, but specifically around issues like working from home, connectivity, etc.”  


Stress Work Life Balance as a non-negotiable:

“You have a couple of options on this one. You could put this on the table upfront and accept that while this may be a dealbreaker for some employers it is not negotiable to you and you are willing to give up the opportunity for that.”

“I would simply ask what expectations for hours are and usual regular working hours. If they are not 9-5 you could negotiate if offered the position.”


But on the flipside, be careful with what is considered a non-negotiable in your job role and level of responsibility:

“Another piece of advice is "do what you have to do" but don't necessarily make it a big deal or a hard line. I come and go as I need to, which I can do as I am the head of my dept. But I never openly say that I do so to my boss, the CEO. As the only woman in the c-suite, that would instantly get me branded.”


Consider your job industry:

"Unfortunately, some jobs are not as conducive to the flexibility required to be the kind of parent we want to be."


Find a flexible caregiver situation:

"Or you could try to find a caregiver situation that has a little more flexibility (day care with later hours, nanny, nanny share, home day care)."


Consider what is a realistic time to leave work

"In my humble opinion most employers will balk at a hard 5p deadline. Many will be open to work life balance, but that 5p hard stop may be a hard one to negotiate.”


Introduce flexible arrangements with your current role:

“What about trying to come up with other ways to be flexible/make up the time? a 15 minute lunch? An hour of work from home after baby bed time? Or is there a way to start earlier? Do you have a partner that could do the AM drop off?

I think largely it depends what kind of work it is on whether a hard departure time is feasible. In general I don't think it is unreasonable, and I'm sure many people have to leave work at a certain time to pick up their kids.”


“I negotiated a slightly early start time and leave time. I get so frustrated by the "Lean In" philosophy. That woman has enough money to hire as many people as she wants/needs to raise her kids and doesn't seem to take into consideration the fact that it's nice to be able to attend school functions in the middle of the day or to come in a little late or leave a little early.”


“I recently spoke with someone with a great job who works 9-2 and then 7:30-until whenever, after her 6 month old son has gone to sleep. I love this idea!  I hate the rush out at 5pm to have 1.5 hours with my son when he is tired and not at his best.  Imagine if I could have the afternoon with him?  The quality time plus the savings in daycare?  This conversation made me more dedicated to trying to find a situation that will be more flexible.”


Emphasize how present you are during office time:

Because of my hours requirements I have been focusing my search on the connections that I already have rather than making "cold calls". I have been stressing my enthusiasm for working and doing a great job within the hours that I am present. I have been doing a bit of freelance work and noticing that I am way more productive when I have a hard and fast stop time, rather than the bit of procrastination that I used to do when I could stay as late as I needed to. On the down side, there are things that happened after I left that it would have been good to be around for, but nothing critical. Again, I think it depends on your line of work.


Find out about office culture and discover who your peers and colleagues will be:

“When looking for a job, I would recommend getting a feel for the "family friendliness" of any company you're looking at. Does the person you are reporting to have children? Do the other people who work there have children? It's often hard to walk out at 5pm sharp when your colleagues are staying b/c something unexpected came up. I do it b/c my kids are my priority, but my job is not the job I would have if I didn't have children. I would NOT have taken a position that didn't allow me some flexibility and I think you should be able to get a feel for that when you interview.”


“My thought for a new job is that you may not be getting to leave at 5pm on your first day.  But you should discuss work/life balance and family-friendliness.  Rather than do this directly in your interview, you may want to start by asking to speak to some of your future colleagues there as part of your side of the interview process and ask more general questions about work/life balance, org culture, and how many others have kids.  You will hopefully get a feel for the place this way.”


“My husband got a new job two months before our first was due. He didn't ask about flexibility when he started, but it turns out the office culture is such that he can work from home once a week. And while the hours are long, he's usually home a half hour before bedtime. We get dinner together after the baby goes down, and then he does more work later. It's not ideal, but better than being in the office until 8pm (or later).”


Negotiate schedules AFTER a job offer has been made:

I think negotiations around your schedule need to come when you have an offer on the table.  There's no bait and switch to that, it's entirely relevant. There remains a lot of discrimination against mothers and I think being sure that you are who they want makes sense.  Let them then fight for you a bit-again, we've forgotten these days that the interview process is supposed to be a 2-way street....  Then you may still want to arrange for greater flexibility for the first few weeks/months while you establish yourself and test the waters.  Once they understand your value, then it might be easier to start negotiating a better schedule.  Or, you might find that they are cool with people leaving at 5pm (though, I'm betting they'll want to hear that you'll be getting on and at least be "available").”


Share family duties with your partner:

“To be fair I am also lucky to have a great supportive husband who does a lot. That was part of our understanding from very early on, from when we first started talking about kids. We did (and still do sometimes) have arguments about fairness of childcare, and he is very understandable about that. What always bothered me (and that may be the only point that i agree on with Sherryl Sandberg, although i didn't read the book) - is an early assumption on my husband's part, as well as from the environment, that as a mom I am the most obvious one to be running home every day to relieve the nanny or staying home when or son is sick. My husband gets it and works very hard for it not to be that way - literally not to assume that if I didn't ask him to relieve the nanny, automatically means I'm doing it. And he knows that when he's home, he has to spend time with our son, not to put him in front of toys/cartoons and go back to work. I know this may lead to a different argument, but we always strive to NOT make my husband a "great help", but an active partner in raising our child, which in turn makes the work situation easier.”


“For all this to ultimately work for our kids, dads or partners have to be equal caregivers. My husband has a couple of days that are non negotiable, but the rest of the week he is the one there first.”


“I think that if you've been at a place for a long enough time, you definitely have more flexibility to negotiate. Also, what about your partner? How do you split childcare/home work? And can you work from home some days? (one day a week or when you have deadlines etc).
I work in online marketing, and my job has never been 9-5  - I used to work a lot of weekends and nights before (and for a while after) my son was born.

When I came back from maternity leave I had a talk with my boss, and told him that on about half the days of the week I have to leave at 5 to be able to relieve our nanny at 6. (the other times my husband is doing it - but of course actual days change based on our travel/work schedules), and as soon as my kid is in bed (at the time it was 8pm) - I'm back online to finish whatever needed to be done. He didn't mind - at the time my boss was a father of 3, and his wife was a stay home mom.

In the last 3 years or so we hired more people and also got acquired, and the work load now is not that extreme, but at the time, during my first year with a young kid at home it was very helpful and everyone understood. To be clear, I was still pulling all-nighters sometimes, and working on weekends (though trying to do it during naps/at night), and sometimes stayed late, but tried my best to structure it around my kid's evening schedule b/c otherwise I just wouldn't see him that much. Sometimes when I have big deadlines, I prefer to work late at home, and work from home the next day so I don't "waste" time on getting dressed/commute/lunch etc, and hopefully be done a little earlier. Or I'd WFH when he's not feeling well, but is still ok to be with the nanny and other kids (we have a wonderful nanny share), I might take him to the doctor and get him back to the nanny if he's not contagious, and go back to work.”


“I moved to NY this past June when my baby was around 9 months, now she is 21 months. We moved here based off my husband getting a better job. It took me what it seemed forever to get a job. I was shocked. I went through many interviews and mentioned I had a child. I got no call backs, but I can’t say for sure if that was the reason. I finally found a job through a recruiter this past February. I went on my interview, I mentioned my child and having to leave by 5 to be able to pick her up, they just wanted me to get in at 8:30am instead of 9, which I agreed was ok. I felt it was very important to me to say something, because I did not want to be stressed about having to take care of my child. She's #1, then work. But I did kind of go into the first place that hired me, instead of knowing 'this is the job I want!' I kind of regret my rush and just accepting what was given and not asking for more (as Lean In suggests). I think you have to come across with a lot of confidence and sell yourself maybe first before mentioning that you have to leave at 5, etc....”


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