“Flexible patterns should be able to change as your life does.”
Having come back to EY full-time after a career break, Sarah McCoo Zhang has adjusted her pattern twice to suit her changing needs. Here she explains how the changes unfolded, and how she handled the conversations.
After a five-year career break, Sarah McCoo Zhang was starting to think about returning to work when she was approached on LinkedIn about a role at EY. It was an appealing opportunity – client-facing, but remotely, so involving minimal travel – with the option of full or part-time.
Being ambitious, Sarah assumed that working full-time would be the best option, so she accepted the role on that basis. But she soon found that the reality of a full-time career and two small children was more of a struggle than she had expected.
“I hesitated to raise it, as I didn’t want to rock the boat, but I also knew that working full-time wasn’t going to be sustainable for me. Plus, as part-time had been on the table initially, I hoped I was pushing at an open door. But I was still surprised by the positive response I got when I spoke to my Partner.”
From full-time to part-time
Ruth, Sarah’s Partner, was immediately understanding of Sarah’s position, and made it clear that she was right to ask. “Her response was brilliant. She made me feel at ease, and went straight to talking about the solution, saying: “Tell me what would work for you to be able to do the job.”
Sarah’s response was to move to a four-day week, working 8am-4pm, so she could have a day at home to catch up with family life. Her workload was reduced in line with her hours, and the team were fully supportive, but Sarah still felt it wasn’t quite the right balance. So after six months, she went back to Ruth with a new proposal.
From four long days to five shorter ones
“When my daughter was changing schools, I chose one near work, as it opened up the possibility of working five short days rather than four longer ones. I knew this would work better for me in terms of being at home with the kids after school, and I was confident that the business could benefit. So I put in a new proposal, and again, it was accepted without question.”
Sarah now works 9am to 2pm, five days a week, with her workload, holiday and salary adjusted to match. So what advice does she have for others who would like to be flexible about their flexible arrangement?
- Identify what part of your arrangement isn’t working
“If you’re feeling that something isn’t quite right, you need to know exactly where the issue is before you try to tackle it. So think it through – it is the hours? The travelling? Your commitments outside of work? If it’s a combination of things, which is having the most impact?”
- Work out what changes you personally can make
“Once you’ve worked out what needs to change, think about whether there is anything you can do personally to support that, before approaching your employer. For example, moving my child to a school nearer the office demonstrated that I was doing my bit to make things work better.”
- Explain why the change you’re proposing will benefit your employer
“Once I’d planned that change, I presented Ruth with my proposal, taking care to highlight that my team and other stakeholders would benefit the consistency of me working every day. It’s easier for leaders to say yes to something when there’s a clear business case.”
- Be flexible in return – without overcompensating
“You need to be prepared to be flexible about what you’re proposing, either at the point of negotiation or once your new arrangement starts. For example, if there’s a regular team meeting that falls outside your usual working hours, you should find a way to try and attend. Flexible working always works best when it works both ways.
“At the same time, it’s easy to feel so grateful for a part-time arrangement that you end up overcompensating and putting in far more hours than you should. So set yourself some boundaries, and if you can’t fit your workload into your working pattern, speak up.”
And Sarah’s final piece of advice is that honesty is the best policy:
“It can be hard to admit that your arrangement isn’t working, especially if it is one that you have asked for. But it won’t help you or your employer if can’t do your job properly in the time you have available, for whatever reason.
“I’m fortunate to work for an employer who is open to this kind of conversation, but I also believe that if you can present your boss with a solution to your problem, it’s generally better to have the conversation than to struggle in silence.”
This article has been written in association with EY, one of our Timewise Partners.