When I approached my boss 14 years ago about working reduced hours, my life was at a crossroads. On one hand, I had just been promoted to a manager role at PwC. On the other hand, I was about to return to work from parental leave with my second child.
The reality set in that something had to give. I wanted to achieve my career goals at a job I loved and cared deeply about. But, my husband traveled for work, so if we were going to be present for our children, we would need to figure out how to schedule around their lives.
At that time, a 75% work schedule was unchartered territory in our particular group in tax, let alone in consulting. I didn’t know any peers or colleagues who had embarked on this type of plan, so it was up to me to blaze my own trail. Fast forward to today, where 80% of workers surveyed said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options, and more than half said they have tried to negotiate flexible work arrangements with their employer.
In our current reality of limited or reduced child care options, the importance of flexibility for mothers is increasing exponentially. Eighty-eight percent of working mothers say that they’re more stressed now than before the pandemic, making options like a reduced work schedule an attractive benefit and a potentially necessary option for companies looking to improve employee retention at a time when parents—especially mothers—are leaving the workforce in droves.
When I first started my 75% work schedule, I was worried, and constantly second-guessing myself. I questioned if I could give enough, and feared that I wasn’t pulling my weight. I constantly had to remind people that I would be leaving the office at a certain time, no matter what. While the first couple of years were spent training the culture, I eventually found that people were pushing me out the door.
Here are three pieces of advice for working moms to help make this type of arrangement work.
Stand up for yourself
When you first undertake a reduced schedule, do not assume that everyone else knows and understands your commitment to work-life flexibility. Talk about it, be open about it, and be your own advocate. The more you progress, the more people can trust that it’ll work.
Early on, I would get frustrated when colleagues would schedule a meeting outside of my working hours or give me a deadline that was unrealistic for my schedule. Blocking time on your calendar is important, but reminding coworkers is necessary, too. Looking back, I understand that we are all busy, and sometimes I just needed to remind teammates of my arrangement in order to help them to respect my time.
People see me at work a lot, but many don’t understand that when I shift to mom mode, I give my kids my undivided attention. Boundaries are important.
Be open to change. The flexible schedule that worked for me when my kids were young didn’t work when my kids grew older. As long as your work schedule meets your personal needs and that of your employer, don’t be afraid to go off-script or make changes as you see fit.
When my husband was not traveling and had the ability to pick the kids up from school, I would occasionally allow myself to work past my prescribed work hours. During slower periods, I could make up for that time by leaving early. Constantly check in with yourself and rethink what you need from a scheduling standpoint. It might change countless times.
Don’t beat yourself up
There are days when you’re not going to be able to give 100% both at work and at home. Sometimes you may feel like you ripped yourself away from work when you could have done more.
When I experienced feelings like that, I remember what my partner told me when I first approached him about a reduced schedule: “Having half of you is better than not having you at all.” When I get frustrated, I remember that my 75% could be better than many others’ 100%.
Looking back at that conversation 14 years ago, I am proud that I took the risk of plunging into a work schedule that allowed me to achieve both my personal and my professional dreams. Not only did I become a principal at PwC, but I was able to spend quality time with my beautiful children. If you’re a parent in a similar position, please know that you don’t have to choose between one or the other.
Kimberly Clark is a tax principal at PwC.