WORKING STRATEGIES: Salary or schedule: Negotiating for what matters

If offered the choice between more money or more schedule flexibility in your job, which would you pick? The answer probably depends on a number of factors, including:

-are you the sole provider in your household?

-does your home life run smoothly?

-do you have children or elderly parents who depend on you?

-how much money is at stake?

-are health care benefits included in either scenario?

When it comes to negotiating terms of employment, there’s clearly more at stake than just numbers and dollar signs. Indeed, once your income reaches the minimum needed to meet expenses, you may value your time over additional pay. Depending on your circumstances, this could be a temporary situation (“until the kids start school”) or a permanent preference.

Before you answer the salary or schedule question for yourself, consider that you might not need to sacrifice one for the other. With some creativity, a compromise might be possible that lets you maintain most or all of your salary while also gaining flexibility.

Step 1: Determine your needs. Do you struggle to get to work on time? Do you need more hours to manage your home? Auditing your weekly calendar to find the time conflicts can help you understand what is and isn’t working in your current schedule. As you might guess, commuting should be part of this assessment. If possible, try to answer this baseline question: Can these issues be resolved by shifting the schedule, or would it take a reduction in hours to make a difference?

A review of your finances is the next step, helping you decide if you can afford any loss of pay. Remember that some of your expenses (perhaps takeout pizza?) might decrease if your schedule were revised.

Step 2: Review your current job. What are the “assets” of your current work situation when it comes to schedule? For example, is your boss open to new ideas? Are your colleagues flexible? Can your work be conducted from other locations, or during different hours? Is technology used as a tool?

Step 3: Look for changes to propose. Some of the classic solutions include: changing schedules (no loss in pay); working at least part of the time from home (no loss in pay); changing duties to allow a different schedule or remote work (possible loss in pay); cutting back hours (likely loss in pay).

To build your own solution, start with your needs. It’s good of you can afford to earn less income, but save that option as a last resort. Start instead with the schedule problem you are trying to resolve. Do you want to be home earlier, or have an extra day off each week? Perhaps it’s day-to-day flexibility that you need, more than a specific set of hours.

Once you’ve identified your ideal, your next step is to compare your solution to your employer’s situation. If you see obvious problems looming, such as a lack of coverage for your duties during key times, you’ll need to address those. That said, it’s not necessary to anticipate every objection or problem; at some point, those issues are your boss’ problem and not yours.

Step 4: Talk with your boss. Ideally, this would be a scheduled conversation. Set the stage by briefly confirming that you like your job and enjoy the duties, but that you’re having some problems with your schedule. While too much detail will be distracting, you should give a general sense of the issue: “My folks are needing more of my help and I want to revise my schedule to accommodate that.”

Then, explain the solution you’ve identified, keeping the focus on the schedule request and coverage of your duties. If the conversation moves toward a reduction in hours, don’t volunteer to take less pay. Instead, let the conversation play out. Although it’s not likely that you’ll end up with full-time pay for part-time hours, nor is it necessary for a reduction in pay to be proportionate to a reduction in hours. That is, dropping your hours by 25% does not have to mean a 25% pay cut – especially since your productivity might only drop by 10 or 15%.

Step 5: If necessary, look for new work. If you can’t revise your current position to meet your needs, it makes sense to find a job that fits you better. This might be easier than you think, since a new boss will see your request as part of the package you come with, rather than a change in the original agreement. This might also be your chance to raise your hourly wage, effectively balancing any loss you might have incurred by cutting your hours in the first job.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul.