By Janine Corea
It’s a new year and the U.S. economy has seen better days. Your “New Year’s Resolution” may include reentering the workforce. The decision to return to work after staying home with your children for some period of time is a difficult one. Depending on the type of job you seek, the flexibility and work-schedule options may vary. It’s worth taking some time up front to explore different types of work arrangements and to identify your goals. For instance, are you going back to work to jump-start your career again, or are you looking for something less stressful to supplement your family’s income during these tough economic times? Knowing what you want out of your job is an important starting point for finding the best work situation for you.
Identify Your Goals
Decide your goals for returning to work. If your goal is to get back into a career that you left pre-parenthood, then you will want to update your resume and begin searching for jobs in your field. Depending on the nature of work you do, there may be some opportunity for flexible work arrangements.
Take time to decide how many hours a week you want to be away from home and what arrangements may help you balance your work and family commitments. If your “going back to work goal” is to supplement your family’s income during tough economic times, you may want to consider part-time work. The type of work you do in this instance may not be as important to you as the flexibility to be home when your kids are home, or to limit the amount of time your children spend in child care.
If you have school-age children, you may want to look for work that would provide you similar hours to children’s school hours. Looking for part-time opportunities in a local school district (e.g., teacher’s aide or cafeteria staff), or as a bus driver, for example, would be ideal. This would afford you the opportunity to increase your family’s income, while allowing you to be home when the kids are out of school (e.g., after school, holidays, summer vacation, etc.). The work may not be as glamorous as a career you previously held, but again, you need to identify what is most important to you.
Another option to consider would be looking for a job with available hours beyond the traditional 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. For example, consider getting a part-time job at a restaurant, retail store, or grocery store. Such employment would allow you to choose hours when your spouse is home, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for (and cost of) childcare.
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Think outside the box
If you’re not looking for a full-time, 9-5 career or traditional work arrangement, you might consider some of these work arrangements which have gained popularity in recent years:
|•||Flex time – an arrangement where the employer allows an employee to “flex” the starting and ending time of her workday. The employee must still work a set number of hours each day, and often must be present during “core” hours, such as 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. The flexibility comes in being able to choose to start work earlier than the typical start time for most employees in order to leave earlier at the end of the day. Or, begin the workday at a later hour and work later in the afternoon/evening. An example of a flexible work schedule for an employee may be working 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The employee is still working a full eight hours (not including a half hour meal period), but has the flexibility to end her day an hour and half earlier than the typical 5 p.m. This flexibility is desirable to many because it may allow you to be home when your kids get off the bus, or avoid rush hour traffic.|
|•||Telecommuting – an arrangement where an employee works some or all of her hours from home, rather than at the employer’s work site. This option is particularly attractive in high-congestion areas where commute times are extraordinary due to the amount of traffic. In addition to the benefit saving commuting time, telecommuting may also provide you more flexibility in your hours because you can work at home whenever it’s convenient for you. You have the ability to more easily take care of personal business on “breaks.” Rather than chatting with a co-worker in the break room over a cup of coffee, you can throw in a load of laundry!|
|•||Job-share: In this arrangement two workers share one job – usually splitting the pay check and benefits. There are many ways to work this arrangement. Often, each person will work two days and on the third day, both employees spend some time in the office, overlapping for an hour or two so they can meet to share notes on projects. An advantage of this arrangement over regular part-time is that there is someone to back you up on the days you are at home, so you can truly be off duty. However, you will have to work closely with this other person, be organized, and diligent about communicating information on projects. If you’re easily frustrated by others or like to do things your own way, this might be a challenging arrangement. You also are responsible for a whole job, but share the benefits, paycheck, and recognition for work done.|
As you weigh the decision of going back to work and what work arrangement you may propose, be realistic with your expectations. While the options outlined above have many advantages you will still be employed outside the home, so remember the following:
|•||Telecommuting is not a substitute for childcare. Even if you are working at home, your little ones need to be cared for and you can’t work and take care of your children. It’s not fair to your employer, your children, or you to expect that you will work from home and take care of the children simultaneously!|
|•||Even going back to work part-time is a big adjustment for the entire family. When you are used to one parent being home full-time, shifting to both parents working outside the home requires sacrifices from everyone. Be honest with your spouse about additional support you may need around the house. You’ll be juggling some additional responsibilities and it’s important for everyone to do their fair share.|
|•||Work is work. It may be tempting to engage in a home-based business, such as selling products at home parties. Be realistic before jumping into something like that. Home based businesses are usually okay if your goal is to get out of the house a couple nights a week and maybe earn a little extra pocket money or get discounts on products you love. Typically, however, there is an up-front cost to get started, continuous “operating” expenses, and the income you derive, is generally minimal (may not be enough to help you make ends meet, if that’s your goal for going back to work.)|
Whether you’re contemplating a return-to-work for personal or financial reasons, or both, weigh all your options carefully and continue to make adjustments along the way. It will be a life-style change for your entire family and working together you will make it work for you! I know I did!
Janine Corea is a certified Professional in Human Resources and mother of two. She has been employed by Paychex, Inc. in Rochester, NY for 13 years and has recently returned to full-time status after nearly nine years of part-time employment.