Balancing the Basics: How I’ve Made a Career of Flexible Work
Here at Carousel Designs, we have a pretty diverse workforce; our employees come from varied backgrounds and some have been with the company for decades, some are newer to the team. I’m always curious to know more about the “past lives” of our newer colleagues and how their past professional experiences lend themselves to their current job roles.
As a stay-at-home mother and part-time blogger I’m also always exploring the topic of work-life balance. Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know our director of marketing, Leah Sicat, and since we’re both mothers of small children, we talk a lot about the challenges of balancing a career with motherhood. I’ve discovered that in her previous jobs, Leah not only spent the requisite years working full-time to “pay her dues” in the corporate world, but she also spent several years working in non-traditional job positions – mixing a combination of part-time work in the office with work-from-home … all to maintain a career she loved while providing a better balance for her family.
Since so many women desire the same type of ideal work scenario (who wouldn’t love to find something that’s part-time, super-flexible and allows more time with family?) I decided to ask Leah a few questions about how she found the opportunity for these flexible work arrangements, and how she made them work for her.
Can you tell us a little about your work/professional background?
After college, I served as an officer in the Army for five years. Although I found my assignments in the Army to be challenging, rewarding and exciting, I always knew that I wanted to be a mom – and for many reasons (mostly the high probability that I would go through multiple deployments and endure long stretches away from family during any lengthy Army career) I decided to leave the military after fulfilling my service commitment. After getting out of the Army, I interviewed and received a job offer from General Electric. For six years, I worked in various corporate communications roles in GE Energy, managing everything from employee communications to public relations and marketing communications for our energy services division (think gas turbines and other power generation equipment – glamorous, I know!) After my second maternity leave, I made the decision to leave GE for a fantastic opportunity – to lead marketing for Carousel Designs! Although at the time it was a very difficult decision, I haven’t looked back with a single regret – who wouldn’t love to work for the best baby bedding manufacturer in the business?! J
How did you end up in jobs that offered part-time/flexible scheduling?
The first time I landed a “flexible” role it was almost by accident. After working hard for about two and a half years to establish myself at GE, I had my first child, Sarah. At the time I didn’t know how I would feel about going back to work full-time after my maternity leave. I did have a job that I loved at a company I respected, with colleagues I loved being around. At the same time, whenever I thought of leaving my infant daughter at daycare to go back to the office, I felt SO sad. Luckily my manager was a woman whom I considered to be a mentor and a friend. As my return to work approached, I opened up to her about my concerns and she suggested a way that I could come back to work part-time (about 20 hours per week), working from home. I give her so much credit for being creative and gutsy enough to develop and advocate for this new job position – which was created entirely for me – to upper management. I felt so fortunate when I re-interviewed, everything was approved and I started my new flexible work arrangement!
Why do you think your flexible work arrangement worked so well?
Although this brief description makes it sound like it was an easy thing to do, I do want to emphasize that I worked for a company where flexible work arrangements were not the norm, but they were generally culturally accepted as an okay thing. GE is a truly global company and the people I interacted with daily were located all over the world, so as long as I had my phone, laptop and a VPN connection, I could literally work from anywhere. I also give credit to GE for recognizing the flexibility needs of their employees. The fact that these kinds of jobs were even available helped the company to retain their most highly valued employees by keeping them productive, happy and engaged. I can personally attest to this – I felt so appreciative of my special work arrangement, and the fact that my manager and company were willing to do this for me, that I became an even more loyal employee.
What was the best part about having a flexible/work-from-home job, and on the flip side, what were the challenges?
The plusses seem obvious and what you would expect – I was happy not to leave my daughter in daycare 50 hours a week, yet I still had a professional outlet and was able to provide some income for my family. The part-time, flexible job also gave me a way to maintain career continuity should I choose to return to GE full-time, which I eventually did.
There were personal and professional challenges, though, too. It was tough to “leave work at work” when my laptop was open and sitting on the kitchen table or in my office a few feet away. The fact that I worked part-time was not evident to many of my colleagues and peers (which was good, I didn’t want to call attention to my less-than-full-time schedule or seem unavailable) but it meant that when I wasn’t working, the emails and calls did not stop coming. I had to set my own barriers and decide to be present for my daughter during my “off” hours. I can’t say I was perfect, since there were definitely a few times when she sat crying while I finished an email or I “shushed” her as I answered a phone call. I’m not proud of those moments but I tried to minimize them as much as possible.
Professionally, I had to work even harder to be “visible” to our management team and company leaders. Luckily I lived close enough to the office that I could go in for a meeting when necessary or attend a special function. I wanted to make sure that my working from home did not mean that I was “out of sight out of mind” when it came to career opportunities or special projects.
If you could offer any advice to women who are hoping to find a part-time or flexible work position, what would it be?
For those women who are working full-time and who can see themselves one day wanting a non-traditional, flexible work arrangement within their company, the best advice I can give is this: make yourself valuable NOW. Work hard to be the best employee you can be and prove early on that you are a talented person who should be kept around. Establishing your reputation as a go-getter who achieves results right away will only help your cause if you’re hoping for a flexible work arrangement later on. Your employer will be much more willing to accommodate your needs if they consider you to be a highly valued employee.
If you are pitching the idea of a flexible work arrangement to your boss, do your homework before discussing this topic. Here are some things to consider before walking into that meeting:
- Try to think of ways that a non-traditional schedule might work well in your present role (or a different one)
- Consider the pros and cons from your boss’ perspective and be prepared to address those points with him/her
- Create a mock weekly schedule that shows how you could accomplish your job tasks/responsibilities within your hypothetical flexible schedule
- *** I believe it’s very important to go to your boss with solutions rather than problems (i.e. “Here’s how I think I could do my job in 4 ten-hour days with Fridays off,” instead of “I need Fridays off to spend time with my kids”)
- You may want to have a private discussion with your human resources manager first to make sure you understand the HR implications and whether you will have the support of HR in proposing your future flexible work arrangement
- Good luck – the only way you will know if you can obtain the flexible job you’ve dreamed of is to go after it with confidence!