Material Moms, The Mothership

[Material Moms] How To Negotiate For Flexi-Work – Sher-Li Torrey

So you are contemplating asking your employer for a flexible work arrangement. Before you do so, you need to ensure you’re well-prepared. Sher-Li Torrey, founder of Mums@Work, clues you in on how and what to prepare.

Increasingly, more women in Singapore are talking about Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA). Driven by a desire to balance work and family, many women consider FWA in order to look after their children or their aged parents. However, asking for FWA without a strategy is akin to running a marathon without any prior training. Here’s a checklist of what you need to prepare before stepping into your boss’s office.

material world_work from home

1. Be very clear about your objective

Know why you are asking for a flexible work-arrangement. Ensure that you have exhausted all other possibilities – and FWA is the best arrangement for your situation. Be honest in sharing with your supervisor why you want/need FWA at this current stage of your life. You will definitely be asked, so have your answer ready.

2. Define (in accurate, detailed terms) what type of Flexible Work Arrangement you want

Flexible Work Arrangements can vary from flexi-place (for example, telecommuting from home) to flexi-time (for example, working part-time). It can be a compressed-work week, job sharing (where two persons share one role) or even project-basis work. When you discuss with your boss the type of work arrangement you are looking at, define clearly what arrangement you would like to consider.

3. ‘Re-design’ your own job

You are the expert at your job, so you have to re-design your role. If you plan to work from home three days a week, segment your job into “what can be done from home”, “what must be done in the office” and “what can be outsourced to the other team mates”. This is a crucial portion of your negotiation. If you were asking for the change, it would be fair that you spend some time trying to re-design your job. That way, your supervisor will not feel like your request is giving him/her extra work.

4. Consider the impact of your new work-arrangement on your boss, co-workers (and your team)

Most jobs have a team element to them. When you choose to do FWA, there will be an impact on everyone around you. Consider the effects of your request (for example, will someone have to cover walk-in clients for you on the days that you are not physically in the office, or perhaps the weekly team meetings may need to be re-scheduled). Bear in mind that your flexible work arrangement may sometimes cause unhappiness (or feelings of unfair treatment) withing your co-workers. Discuss these issues openly with your supervisor from the beginning.

5. Analyse the impact on your career

Depending on your company, your job role and the type of arrangement you are asking for, your new work-arrangement may affect your career path. If you were working shorter hours, the most obvious change would be a decrease in salary. However, this need not always be the case. Flexi-work arrangements like a compressed work week or telecommuting should technically not affect your pay as the amount of hours put in and the amount of work stays the same. In fact, in most flexi-work negotiations, there should be NO decrease in pay if the amount of work and KPI’s have not changed.

In some firms (or specific work arrangements), you may also see a stagnation of career growth. Tough as it is, do discuss these points with your supervisor and your HR team.

6. Research your company – policies, case studies and HR rules

A fairly large group of companies in Singapore have processes for requesting for special work arrangements. In more progressive firms, the HR team may even have templates that can help you and your supervisor to implement the flexi-work change easily. In addition, there may be other employees in your firm who are currently taking up FWA. Try speaking to them about their experience (in a professional context) after taking up flexi-work. These case studies are good to bring up to your supervisor when negotiating. For example, there are many MNC banks, based in Singapore who do have FWA (on a case-by-case basis) for their employees.

7. Know your boss

Many of the successful cases for FWA that we see at Mums@Work are a result of a very professional, positive and trusting relationship between the supervisor and the flexi-worker. You should have an idea of your boss’s opinion about work-life balance, as well his/her view about flexi-work arrangements. If you work for someone who does not believe that FWA will work, then you know you are going to have a much harder time trying to convince him/her. When you have an opportunity, subtly suss out his/her opinions (without mentioning your request) to gauge his/her likely response when you do eventually request.

8. Analyse your own job history in the company and the team

Most employers want their employees to be contented and dedicated. In most cases, an employee who is perceived to value-add significantly to her team is likely to be cherished by her supervisor. Employees who have been with the company for a long time (and proven her capabilities to deliver results) will also stand in better stead than someone who has just joined the firm for three months. Your job history – including the amount of achievements and contribution to your company – is your bargaining chip. Remember: Employers want to retain talent. So ask yourself, are you really a talent?

9. Draw up your plan. (Yes, on paper, please!)

Too often, mothers who walk in without a proper plan and ask for flexible work get turned down. Putting down a proper ‘proposal’ is important. It not only shows that you are serious about your request, but it also shows your dedication (and effort) to make it work. If you can demonstrate how you can continue to be a good team player and produce results despite the change in work-arrangement, you are likely to have a better chance of getting approved.

10. Make an appointment

You’re encouraged to set up a dedicated appointment to discuss your proposal in person, as it shows your determination to make this work. Refrain from just emailing your boss and hoping he/she reads it. Remember: If you want this, show him/her that you mean business.

11. Negotiate – what can you compromise? What will you not compromise?

Like all negotiations, you have to be prepared that you may have to compromise. Sometimes, in certain situations, it is just impossible to come up with the exact arrangement you are asking for. A legal counsel (and a Mums@Work member) tried asking for a compressed-work week. She wanted to work four days, but with longer hours. However, her company was worried that her absence on Fridays would be felt as they had a very lean team. Eventually, she settled for five working days, of which two half-days she worked from home. Think though what you can and cannot compromise. But bear in mind, you want to create win-win: for you and your supervisor.

12. Don’t give up!

There are many cases where mothers ask for FWA and get turned down initially. But they re-strategised and created a new proposal. So if you don’t succeed the first time, do not rule it out as “Impossible”. Occasionally, it can also be about timing. For example, if you are the only experienced team-member working with a group of new-hires, it may not be the best time. So, just try again a few months down the road.

Flexible work arrangements are increasing in Singapore as more employers realise how effective it can be to retain talent like yourself. However, it does take a major cultural shift of perspectives for it to work. Have patience, strategise well, and give it a shot. You never know!

pic 1About The Author: It is no secret that Sher-li wishes there were more than 24 hours in a day. Besides climbing Mt Fuji and publishing a book, she thinks her biggest achievements are giving birth to two kids who keep her busy with their energetic pursuits (which include ruling their mummy’s world). 

Material Moms, The Mothership

[Material Moms] What You Need To Know About Flexi-Work – Sher-Li Torrey

There’s a constant struggle that comes with being a working mother. On one hand, you really want to be with your children, but on the other, you want a fulfilling career as well. Is it possible to have it all? Sher-Li Torrey is the founder of Mums@Work, a social enterprise that supports flexi-work arrangements for mothers in Singapore. In this article, she shares the things you need to know about working on flexible time.  

It's a fine balance.

It’s a fine balance.

Like many first-time mothers, I was in for a shock when I gave birth to my first child. She was a quiet and well-behaved baby, and slept like a log through the night. However, her arrival meant my dream to rule the world was dashed.

Suddenly, 24 hours was not enough for me to play the roles of mother, employee, employer, daughter, wife, daughter-in-law, sister and friend. I had a great boss that allowed me to try out a flexible work arrangement. Despite that, I found that I needed even more flexibility.

Feeling stretched and helpless, I started looking for a job that allowed me to work from home or part-time. I soon discovered that the number of flexible roles for professionals and executives were limited. I also realised that there were many talented mothers like myself who wanted to work, but on their own terms. At the same time, there were also employers who were on the hunt for top talent.

material world_working mum

So I decided – why not create a portal for mothers like me? That was how Mums@Work became my second baby in May 2010. Now, two kids later (my son arrived in 2012), I am proud to say that Mums@Work has listed more than 1500 flexi-jobs and held more than 200 events. What started as a hobby developed into an online career portal with more than 11,500 member-mums. We also support Mumpreneurs (mothers who start a business from home), and work with employers on the implementation and managing of flexi-workers.

The greatest misconception about flexible work is that it only comprises of part-time work. Flexibility is actually, in terms of time (flexi-hours or part-time), place (work-from-home) or duration (contractual or freelance project work). While being able to work on your own terms sounds ideal, there are several factors you need to consider before approaching your boss:


1. Able to design your own schedule
Because you now have more opportunity to design your own schedule, you can prioritise accordingly. This generally gives a sense of control, resulting in less stress (and often less guilt) for mothers.

2. Having the best of both worlds
Although it’s not always 50-50, the division of time by a flexi-work mum is likely to be more balanced than a full-time working mother. For some individuals, this may help them to relieve some of the stress they feel trying to meet both family and work commitments.

3.  More confidence
In most cases of flexi-workers I encounter, mothers who were previously staying at home often speak of a new confidence after re-starting work. Although I personally think that all mothers (whatever their career choice) are equally amazing, there are women who prefer to peg their self-worth to both fulfilling maternal roles and establishing a small career.

4. A renewed hope
Many flexi-work mums that have come through Mums@Work’s doors often speak of flexi-work as providing them with a sense of hope. Some of these mothers had chosen to return to the workforce and were not sure if they were ready for a full load after being away for a few years. The flexi-work arrangement allowed them to work at a pace that was comfortable to them, and prepared their engines to take on full-time roles months or years later.

material world_mum working from home


1. Long days, Role creep
One of the greatest challenges that work-from-home employees face is role creep – an inability to distinguish between their duties. Sometimes while “at work”, they have to stop and take on mother duties. Or while watching their kids at a swimming meet, they have to answer work calls. This constant volleying between roles can often lead to long days of trying to meet all demands.

2. Misunderstood availability
Just because you work from home does not mean you have all the time in the world to cook meals, drop off parcels at the post office, run daily errands, wait for the plumber, etc. Sometimes your spouse, friends or family members may assume that your flexible work arrangement allows you all the time to do everything else. They forget that you have deadlines to meet too.

3. Financial stresses
Some flexible work arrangements may result in a decrease in household income, which can be a source of stress on both the mother and father. This is why it’s important to have heart-to-heart discussions with your spouse before you take the plunge, and to assess how your decision would impact the household income.

4. Professional image compromised
When you work from home, you may find it very difficult to take work calls with a baby crying in the background. If you run your own business from home, a home office can also be viewed as being unprofessional.

One thing I often highlight is that a flexible work arrangement is not for everyone. Some of us are Separators, with a need to compartmentalise the different areas of our lives. Separators prefer keeping work and family apart. For such individuals, working from home can be very challenging. It is therefore important to know what you want and what your personal flexi-style is, before asking for a flexible work arrangement.

pic 1About The Author: It is no secret that Sher-li wishes there were more than 24 hours in a day. Besides climbing Mt Fuji and publishing a book, she thinks her biggest achievements are giving birth to two kids who keep her busy with their energetic pursuits (which include ruling their mummy’s world).