Negotiating a Flexible Work Arrangement with Your Employer

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  • June 19, 2012
Farzanna Haffizulla, MD, FACP

Practicing medicine in today’s world has evolved to include many technology based patient interactions. Physicians are no longer confined to the boundaries of a physical office environment. The advent of telemedicine, virtual clinics, electronic health records, clinical and non-clinical consulting opportunities allow for more flexibility in the way we are able to maintain our professional status as physicians. Every working mom should have the right to take time off, free from the pressures of work, but doing so requires some savvy planning with your supervisors and colleagues when you are gone. Check with your employer about your maternity and family leave options. The stress that many working mothers feel often relates to leaving work unfinished or falling behind on projects. Don’t leave your job with uncertainty and offer a clear timeline so that your work colleagues know what to expect.
While pregnancy and childcare is fraught with intense emotions, make sure you check your emotional highs and lows at the door. Always maintain a professional attitude when in front of your colleagues. You want to show that you are committed and just as reliable, and that you take your work commitments seriously.

Here’s what to go over with your supervisor if you are considering time off:

  • Determine the changes in schedule or job functions.  If you work in a traditional office setting, you may opt to take “beeper call,” taking a tremendous burden off of your colleagues.
  • Specify a specific leave period (start date and end date).  This is important for example in wanting to breast feed after giving birth. It usually takes about four weeks to establish a regular milk flow and to establish a routine that reflects your baby’s own personal rhythms.
  • Figure out coverage. Who will cover for you while you are gone?  Will your work be divided up among colleagues and are they aware?
  • Create hand-off notes. Prepare your notes and work procedures for your replacement.
  • Establish boundaries and access. Will you be available for consultation? How much contact are you willing to have during your leave?
  • Plan your re-integration and return. Design a plan for your return, such as changes in job function, reduced hours, etc.
  • Consider telecommuting and working from home or at a location closer to home. Present a clear plan of action to your supervisor about how you see this arrangement benefiting you and your company. This works well for telemedicine and any clinical or non-clinical positions that do not require direct patient contact. Will you be able to make regular conference calls to check-in with your colleagues and with your supervisor? Will you be able to drop-in on occasion if the project calls for it, or if you need to see patients or clients? This mainly applies to those already in practice. Medical school and residency have their own challenges. Check with our program’s policies on taking leaves of absence if you are still in training and follow carefully outlined plans to complete any missed work.

There are four important steps to take when negotiating flexible work arrangements.

Step 1: Assess your job and employer.

Will they allow you to try the above flex options?  Some jobs are strict about a physical presence in the office during regular business/office hours.  For example, a surgeon or school teacher may find flex options provide no respite from their work demands. For those with more flexibility from their employers, consider if working in an alternate location would be beneficial. Can you handle the independence and distractions, if it saves you commuting time and costs?

Step 2: Find out where you work best.

Many women thrive in home offices, which allow them to save on childcare costs, while others find home offices distracting and unproductive. On face value, working from home may seem to be the most convenient option, but before seizing the opportunity, remember that working at home doesn’t necessarily make it convenient. If constant interruptions will make working difficult, the advantages of working at home may be overshadowed by the downsides, such as battling feeding, diaper changing, or cranky outbursts from your
kids.

Step 3: Drop the guilt-factor.

Recognize that you shouldn’t feel like a bad parent if you come to the realization that you can’t work and care for a child in a synchronous manner, and that you are more productive when you keep the two worlds largely separate.  Perhaps you’re the type that needs a designated working space. Other moms might not mind writing or preparing reports, making phone calls and dealing with clients while toys are scattered by the desk and your child squeals and plays in the playpen set in the corner of the room. Seek out the best work arrangement and reassure your employer that you’re not seeking a favor, but asking for an alternative way to produce the same level of work expected.

Step 4: Champion Your Work

Once you’ve started your new work arrangement, remember that you may not be physically in the office as often as usual. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind can have detrimental effects on your employer’s impression of you.

Make sure you take these measures to ensure that you get the credit you deserve:

  1. Document your performance and work results. Check-in daily if needed with your boss.
  2. Be clear about the expectations. You may not be able to work fulltime, but can you still produce full-time work.
  3. Set up periodic meetings with your supervisor to go over expectations. Have you made significant contributions? In what ways? Work with your employer to adjust your work schedule as needed to fine-tune an optimal arrangement.
  4. If something urgent comes up at work, what is your family contingency plan? And vice versa— if something at home interrupts your work schedule, will your employer be able to grant you more flexibility?

While there is no “one size fits all” approach, variations in theme and creative strategizing and planning will allow you to achieve the best of both your family and career spheres of life.  Use technology to optimize your “reach” within your profession.  Telemedicine, virtual robotic procedures and consulting opportunities outside of the realm of traditional practice are alternate options you can incorporate into your lifestyle to improve the flexibility of medical practice. Maintain clarity, definition and be resolute in your personal choices.
An injection of optimism and approaching your colleagues and supervisors with amiable professionalism will dramatically increase your chances of getting the schedule that works best for you.

About the Author:

Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla is President of the South Florida Branch of AMWA, an AMWA Mentor, a member of the Membership and Marketing Committee and Global Outreach Committees.  Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla is a wife, mother of four, community leader and is a nationally recognized speaker and expert in work/life balance. Her book, Harmony of the Spheres: Career, Family and Community, offers methods to streamline workloads, solve interpersonal workplace issues and offers practical advice on integrating work and home life. She runs her hybrid private Internal Medicine practice offering office visits, housecalls or telemedicine to her patients. In addition, she runs the websites BusyMomMD, an informative site for modern, educated women juggling career, family and community life, and HouseCallsMD, providing a portal to better healthcare. She also offers both personal and group consulting for professionals striving to achieve work-life balance. To contact Dr. Haffizulla please email her at info@BusyMomMD.com.

 

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Farzanna Haffizulla

Farzanna Haffizulla

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