In the 1950s and '60s, men went to work, women took care of the house and kids, and the 9-to-5 workday seemed to be a perfect arrangement. But today, with 50 percent of women in the workforce, the standard workday model looks as outdated as a rotary telephone.
Recognizing this, workers want more flexible options, and in many instances, businesses have been complying. "Companies are finding that employees who are more in control of their time are happier, more productive and less likely to look for a new job," says Phyllis Moen, PhD, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota. Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions.com, a website that helps women gain flexible work arrangements, agrees: "Studies show that employees do best and are less stressed when they can control where, when and how work gets done."
The Work-Life Balancing Act
Adding to this phenomenon: A new generation of workers-both men and women-who have grown up on technology and changing values is pressing employers to let them work remotely, according to Jamie Ladge, PhD, assistant professor of management and organizational development at Northeastern University.
At the same time, many companies are discovering that they can save money on rent and other costs if employees don't come to the office every day. Even the federal government is acknowledging that the old ways of doing business don't work anymore: Last March, the President's Council of Economic Advisers issued a report praising telecommuting, job sharing and flexible hours. "With time, these views will trickle down to more employers and their workers," says Katepoo.
So what's in your future? Here, meet three women who are making their jobs work for them, and find out how you can too.
She Telecommutes: Danessa Knaupp, 35
With 16 urgent work phone calls scheduled for the same day as her younger son's sixth birthday, Danessa silently gave thanks for her work-from-home arrangement with her employer, Capital One Bank. It provided, in her mind, the perfect blend of work and family. Wearing her "I'm Colin's Mommy" T-shirt, she delivered and distributed cupcakes at her son's school, sang "Happy Birthday" and then popped home to begin her phone call marathon.
"As a working parent, I thought that was a great day. I met everyone's expectations," says Danessa, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, and manages incentive programs for bank employees. Although Danessa's been with Capital One for 11 years, last year she was promoted to this new position, which involves travel at least one day a week, sometimes more.
A mother of three children ages 9, 6 and 2, and the family's major breadwinner, Danessa was happy with her promotion, but reluctant to be away from her family so much. "I wondered how I would add travel to what I'm already balancing," she recalls. "I suggested to my boss that I work from my home office when I'm not on the road, and fortunately, I work for a company that's comfortable with such options."
Still, Danessa, who didn't have to give up salary or benefits for the arrangement, had some trepidation. "I worried that I'd have fewer chances for advancement or special projects because I'm not with the leadership team every day. It's turned out not to be true. I've had one of the strongest years I've ever had with the company," she says.
But it hasn't been without bumps. Danessa's husband, Bobby, a high school history teacher, thought that with her home more, things would run more smoothly. "My husband was surprised to come home from work and find the breakfast dishes still in the sink," she says with a laugh. "We've had some serious conversations about what my working from home really means…that I still have to put in my hours and that I'm not always available to take care of every chore. Now, he and I start each evening by talking about our day while we do the breakfast dishes together."
Ironically, the one real drawback has been no more 20-minute commute-a time Danessa had used to relax and plan for the next day. To make up for it, sometimes she'll take a walk around the block or go window-shopping on her lunch hour.
Danessa may not spend the rest of her career working from home; in a few years, she might opt back into the office. That's one of the keys of successful work-life fit, says Dr. Moen: knowing what you need at a particular moment in your life. For now, though, Danessa says this arrangement has lowered her stress. "Before I telecommuted, I felt as though I had to have the full day planned prior to walking out the door in the morning. If I forgot to defrost dinner or pack a lunch, it was a big deal. Now I can focus on the task at hand, and if something doesn't go as planned, I can easily address it and get back to work."
You Can Do It!
Who It's For: Workers who primarily use a computer and telephone, and whose job is based on dealing with information and ideas. Administrative assistants and accountants are prime candidates.
How to Ask: Prepare a written proposal that details how you'll work from home, says Katepoo. Include what your schedule will be and how you'll communicate with the office, and describe your home office setup. Also tell how this agreement may save the company money (for example, according to Katepoo, telecommuters are more likely to stay with their jobs. The cost of losing and replacing an employee is estimated at 1.5 to 2.5 times the position's annual salary).
What's the Arrangement? Most telecommuters typically work one to three days a week from home. In your proposed schedule, break down which work tasks you'll do remotely and which you'll do at the office. And remember, it's your responsibility to keep your employer up to date on your work.
For More Information: Visit workoptions.com or the Alliance for Work-Life Progress ( awlp.org).
She Shares a Full-time Job: Karen Emanuelson, 51
Four years ago, Karen felt ready to reenter the workforce but not ready to give up her volunteer commitments and be away from her two young teens all day, every day. So when her hometown of North Oaks, Minnesota, offered her a full-time job as assistant to the city administrator, she spoke to her future boss about making it a part-time position to be shared. "Luckily, the city administrator had an open mind and was willing to explore pioneering this type of arrangement," says Karen.
They worked through it together, considering the idea of splitting the day and ultimately agreeing on splitting the week. "I concluded that if you're going to go through the trouble of getting ready and dressed, you might as well work the whole day," Karen says.
In November 2005, Karen accepted the position and began working full-time until Marcia Rich, 49, of Lion Lakes, Minnesota, a mother of three boys and a registered nurse, was hired a few months later to split the job. For almost five years, one has been jockeying the desk on Mondays and Tuesdays, the other on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and the two rotate Fridays. For both women, the job, which pays an hourly rate, represents supplemental family income. The two share holiday pay and vacation pay, and they can take unlimited unpaid vacation days, as long as the other is willing to work on those days. There are no insurance benefits, though the city does match contributions to a retirement account for each of them. When Marcia's not at City Hall, she still puts in a few hours of nursing work each week. And Karen has created a marketing consulting company, Reciprocate LLC, that specializes in social media for small businesses.
"The flexibility of this job has been the best part," says Karen. "This week my parents are in town, so Marcia's doing the whole week. When she goes away, I'll cover for her. The fact that we're interchangeable makes it a lot easier."
Each woman brings different skills to the desk. While Karen enjoys writing press releases, working on the city's website and planning events, Marcia is a topnotch organizer who has created new filing systems. It helps that the two women have devised detailed systems. For example, there's the green notebook in which each jots down what she's working on so that her partner can follow through the next day. There's an inbox where ongoing projects are left, and they've agreed that each day ends with a clean desk. They also meet for lunch occasionally to touch base, air any problems and set up new procedures. "You have to have total confidence in your share," says Karen. "Whether she's sending out a letter or I'm doing it, it reflects on both of us."
Looking back on the past five years, Karen marvels that the job has become a seamless operation. "Even though we each have our own projects and areas of expertise, to the public, we're one person getting the job done. It works for everyone."
You Can Do It!
Who It's For: Typically, job sharing works well for salespeople, human resources professionals, nurses, public relations professionals, city officials and graphic designers. These jobs have obvious divisions of labor.
How to Ask: As with telecommuting, a businesslike written proposal that describes exactly how two people will get the job done is more likely to succeed than a verbal request. In it, emphasize some of the following: The company gets two sets of skills applied to one job for one salary; there is less absenteeism and higher job retention among job sharers; people who work reduced hours have more energy and focus and are more productive. While Karen succeeded without a job-share partner in mind, most often it works better if you approach your supervisor with a proposed partner.
What's the Arrangement? Agree with your partner about whether you'll split the week or alternate weeks. Be prepared to cover for each other, and have a plan for time conflicts (you both want off Christmas week).
For More Information: Visit JobShareConnection.com.
She Created Her Own Business: Nicole Silton Klemens, 53
When Nicole and her husband divorced six years ago, she was scared. How would she be there for her boys, then 13 and 9, without a second household salary? "I was seeing a therapist, trying to sort out my life," recalls Nicole, who lives in Rye, New York, and has a degree in psychology. "I needed to reestablish myself as an independent person yet keep my sons as my main focus. She said, 'You're really organized, and I've got some women in my practice who need someone like you.'" So Nicole allowed her therapist to "set her up" with some clients, and her new career was born.
Shortly thereafter she founded Let's Get Organized, a business that organizes the households of elderly people: assisting them with paying their bills, keeping their insurance papers straight, making medical appointments for them and handling whatever else might come along. Although no special training is required, she says, "you need to be broadly educated, because I look at all kinds of information, from bank statements to correspondence with lawyers to stock certificates. I have to be able to understand what I'm reading so I can explain it to my clients. I don't make decisions about stock portfolios, but if a client is confused by the contents of a letter, I may need to call his or her stockbroker and know what I'm talking about." She even emails her clients' children who live in distant cities. "To do this job, you need to have integrity because you're dealing with the intimate details of someone's life. It's like being an adult child without the baggage of being related to the people! A lot of my work takes place over a cup of tea."
The rules of the business: Any visit has a minimum of four hours, she'll organize but won't clean, and she only schedules one client a day since her younger son is still in school and she can rely on child support to boost her income. (When he graduates, she says, she'll ramp up to make more money and is considering earning a certificate as a geriatric care manager, which would solidify her credentials.) Also, she doesn't mix work with pleasure. "I am very kind to my clients, and I like them, but they are not my friends," she says. "Sometimes it's hard not to invite them to my home when I know that they're alone on a holiday, but I need to set some boundaries." She also generally refrains from checking on clients between scheduled appointments, and screens calls so she can return them when it's convenient for her.
The other downsides: The job can be isolating. "I don't always interact with my peer group," says Nicole. And if she gets sick and can't work, she doesn't get paid. She's also self-insured for medical coverage, an expensive proposition. Still, the positives outweigh the negatives many times over, says Nicole. Her business has grown through word of mouth, and she still has her two original clients. "I've developed a real appreciation of how difficult it is to grow old, and I'm so glad to be able to help."
You Can Do It!
Who It's For: Service-oriented workers: fitness trainers, makeup artists, personal chefs, etc.
How to Do It: Select a business that showcases your skills and fills a gap in the marketplace. You'll need a business plan outlining your goal, how you'll make money and the investment costs involved. Startup costs can be less than $1,000 on such things as advertising, business cards and materials, says Nancy Collamer, founder of MyLifestyleCareer.com, a blog about reinventing your career. "To attract clients, volunteer your services to someone in exchange for references, or arrange workshops at your library or church," she says. Also, create a website, Facebook page and Twitter account to promote your business.
What's the Arrangement? In "by appointment" businesses, you decide when to work. Require a minimum number of hours for a client, usually at least two hours for the initial consultation. To figure out an hourly rate, research your competition and figure out your expenses.
For More Information: Go to the Small Business Administration website ( sba.gov/SmallBusiness Planner/Index.html).
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Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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