Most of us think of a dream career as one that affords us flexibility for personal relationships and high engagement for personal growth. And while flexible work used to be limited to women, USA Today reports that increasingly, men, too, feel stress from the personal impact of inflexible work. So the question for everyone is: What’s the best path to get this dream career?
Retail is a great way to get flexible work, (which is why I think we should see a surge in educated people taking retail jobs.) But most people don’t aspire to retail because the work is not intellectually engaging. On the other hand, most of the intellectually challenging work in this world comes with inflexible schedules.
So the trick is not to get flexibility, the trick is to get it without losing engaging work and avoiding a pay cut. Also, keep in mind that flexible work is not about the hours, it’s about control. Because most of us are fine with working long hours as long as we have control over those hours.
Given these parameters for thinking about flexible work, here are the tricks for landing that sort of job:
Be a star. There are great stories all over the place about women who negotiated. Brenda Barnes was CEO of Pepsi, then she quit to take care of three kids. She came back and took a position as CEO of Sara Lee. That's the ultimate flexibility: A CEO position in the Fortune 500 with seven years off to raise kids. But who is as talented in business as Brenda Barnes? Not many of us. The flexibility you can negotiate is directly commensurate to the star power you established before you started negotiating.
Be relentless. Flexibility comes, usually, after proving your worth to a company. Which means you can't job hop to get flexibility unless you're a rock star and can make it a precondition for hiring. Non rock stars need to stick around longer. Prove your worth, and then make tons of suggestions to get the specific flexibility you want—a new department, different hours, less travel, on-site child care, maybe a satellite office near your home.
You need to propose options that are solutions for you. And if one doesn't work, try another.
Know your bottom line. I wouldn't work without enough money to have household help. It was a precondition for me being available at all times to the company—I needed household available at all times to me. This gives me the ability to create the type of flexibility I need in my life. At one point, things got so tenuous that I had a huge screaming match with one of my investors over my salary. But I didn't budge. I had the confidence that I knew my line in the sand, and I wasn't going to cross it.
Gear up for big risks. Screaming at my investors. And crying. And getting thrown out of the attorney's office where we were. Those were big risks. I could have lost my company. But I didn't. And I didn't lose my salary either. But I took big risks. You never know what risks you'll have to take to get what you want. But it's safe to say that if you are aiming for flexibility in corporate America, you will need to risk your job, or your salary, to get what you want.
Be careful what you wish for. If you win the flexibility to do your work when you want to, and you make space in your day for your kids, you still did not get more time in your day. For example, it's clear to me that there's a surge of email from 9pm — 11pm eastern, as kids across America go to bed and parents jump online. So we're better parents and engaged workers, but Oprah magazine reports that more than half of people who are married say they don't have enough time for their spouses.