Asking for accommodations from your employer

Before Baby entered your life, perhaps you imagined that you’d be able to return to work and it would be business as usual. You’d come and go at the same time, perform the same tasks, take on the same workload. By now you may have started to realize that either your expectations are, indeed, lining up with your new reality, or that it’s proving to be challenging to operate in just the same way as you used to.

If you’re finding you’re feeling the latter, know that it’s entirely normal. Returning to work as a new parent is a huge transition, and many parents find that it takes some time – and work – to adjust and find a work/life harmony that is right for them. Perhaps you really want to be around for all of Baby’s bedtime routine, which means not staying at work super late, or you’ve found that to be the best parent you can be and perform well at work you really need to hit the sheets early, which conflicts with answering late night calls or emails. And if Baby is sick, maybe you’d really like to work from home so that you can be there for him.

So how can you make these parenting priorities line up with your work life? If you’ve worked at your job for a while and have already established yourself as a valuable employee, you may be able to negotiate for more flexibility or new accommodations that will allow you to feel better about how work fits into your larger life, and how you want to be able to be present for your little one.

These options might include changes big or small – perhaps shifting your hours in a way that works better for your family, working from home as needed, or any number of other arrangements. All employers are different, as are all roles at any given company, so there’s certainly a lot to consider if you want to try to request any changes. 

Consider your current job

You’ll first want to consider just what your regular day-to-day job responsibilities are, and how these details might influence the sort of flexibility you want to ask for. If your job consists of a lot of customer facing work or manual labor that calls for you to be present at your place of employment, then working remotely probably isn’t an option, but you may be able to negotiate switching to a different shift. If your job consists of a lot of time spent in front of a laptop, maybe working remotely a few days a week could work well.

Check to see if there are any formal policies

Does your employer have any formal policies about asking for accommodations on the books? You may want to check out your company handbook or any HR materials that might outline the official policy. Policies may include, for example, if your company asks that such requests be made in writing, if they already have a clear timeline for the approval of such requests, or if they require that requests happen a certain number of weeks in advance. If there aren’t such policies on the books, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask anyway. Many employers are open to hearing such requests regardless. Ask HR if you have any questions about this. 

Know your priorities

Once you’ve thought more about just what kind of accommodations could make sense based on your job responsibilities and if there are any formal policies that might shape how you make your request, now it’s time to get into specifics. Consider your priorities – what you want, what you’re willing to give up, and what you’re not. 

Do you want to work remotely, but don’t want that to mean that you’re expected to answer calls at all hours? Are you sure your main priority is being around for dinner with your family and present for Baby’s bedtime routine as many days of the week as possible – without taking a pay cut? Do you want to reduce your hours, but don’t want to lose benefits? 

Before you speak with your employer, you’ll want to have a clear sense of just what you think would be a worthwhile compromise for flexibility and what won’t be worth it.

Come up with a plan to present to your employer

Based on all that you’ve considered above, you’ll want to come up with a plan that includes the specifics of what you’re hoping for in terms of flexibility. 

Depending on your place of work, employer policies, and your relationship with your employer, this might mean a formal written proposal to your manager or just an honest conversation with your supervisor.

Start the conversation

When you meet with your employer, present your case for a more flexible work situation – including the specifics you decided on and with your priorities in mind – and be prepared for this to just be the beginning of a conversation. You may want to suggest a trial period, just so your employer can get more comfortable with the changes and see that having these flexible work arrangements won’t impact your work performance. Some employers will give you an okay right away, and others will need time to consider it or to pass it along to upper management for approval, so you may need to be patient.

Be prepared for your employer to come back to you with different options for flexibility or to discuss some of the specifics you presented, and be ready to be clear about what you are willing to compromise on and what you’re not – so that everyone can come out of the conversation feeling good about what’s been decided. And, just in case, you should also be prepared for a “no” right now, though this doesn’t mean you can’t try to revisit the conversation in the future.

As you start this conversation, be honest with your employer about what you’re hoping for, and you just might be surprised at how they can help.

If you’re a member of a collective bargaining unit, be sure to check the details of your contract and ask your union leadership if you have any questions.

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