“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
This passage is a constant reminder to me to trust in God’s timing and to let go of my own expectations. To paraphrase it specifically for work would sound something like this: there is a time to press forward at work, and a time to lean back; a time to work overtime and a time to work part time… During the lifetime of your career, you will experience quite a few seasons. It is one thing to recognize that you need to make a change to your work schedule is one thing. Getting to the point that you make that change is quite another.
There are a few lucky professionals that work at a company which offers flexible work arrangements. Most professionals today, however, are not that lucky. Studies show that many in the workforce simply quit their jobs when they are faced with a situation that demands major adjustments to their work schedule or location. Quitting could be the right thing for your season, and it could be exactly the choice God wants for you. But quitting isn’t your only choice.
If your workplace does not have an established policy or precedent for flexible work arrangements, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask. If you need to adjust your work, you must ask. First, you should ask because you have nothing to lose. One uncomfortable conversation with your boss might make it possible for you to keep your job and make needed adjustments for your life and priorities.
Second, you should ask for the sake of your company and the people who work there. Companies have much to gain from retaining and supporting their employees, but too many are stuck in the past. The environment and culture of your company won’t change if no one asks it to. Your request is valuable even if it gets denied. If the company loses talented employees due to a lack of flexibility on their part, change will eventually come. You can make it easier for those who come after you simply by asking.
A Crisis at Home
My own “leaning back” time in my career came when I was at a high point in my career. I was serving as President of Global Corporate Services for a Fortune 500 Company (CBRE), and I was well-positioned to move up the “chain of command.” I had an amazing team I worked well with and a boss I liked and respected. In short, work was going exactly as I wanted it.
Then my son Christian, at the time 17, spiraled into a crisis. I had known for several years that my son was struggling emotionally and had turned to drug use, but because he was living with his father, there was little I could do beyond ceaseless prayers and consistent phone calls. I prayed that God would work a miracle in Christian’s heart, and one day, after being arrested for the second time and even spending a night in jail, his heart began to slightly soften. He asked to move back home with me. I of course said yes, but with conditions.
I had been thinking and praying for a long time about what I could do to help Christian turn his life around, and I truly felt that God was calling me to take some drastic steps. I knew that whatever course of action I decided on would require significant time and energy from me, a feat my work schedule at the time hindered me from committing to.
I knew that was a pivotal point in Christian’s life, and that I needed to give him everything I could. I went to work the next day and asked to speak with my boss Mike Lafitte, and I got right to it. I filled Mike in on everything that was happening with Christian, and then laid out my options: “I can quit, or I can leave at 2:30 every afternoon to pick up my son from school and work out of my car or house for the rest of the day. I need to do that for at least the next several months.”
A Pivotal Point
Even as I said those words to my boss, I had no idea how things would turn out. While I had a solid relationship with my boss and knew I was valued by my company, I was still frightened and unsure. I could have lost my job as a result of that conversation. I went into that conversation, though, knowing that that was where God was directing my steps. At that point, I was prepared to do anything to try to help heal my son’s heart and point him back to God.
In the end, I didn’t have to choose between my job and my son. My boss and my company were incredibly supportive. They even allowed me to take a ten-week sabbatical later that year to see Christian through the summer and off to college. It took some time for Christian’s life to turn around and after several years and many special people pouring into him, he gave his life to Christ. Today, Christian works with an inner city children’s ministry for Antioch Church in Waco, Texas. While I have never taken any credit for how the situation turned out, I do believe that God used me and those around us in that time to help work a miracle in Christian’s heart.
I had a similar experience during my time at the Halftime Institute. When I entered the program, I was at a time in my life where I needed clarity and guidance. Through a combination of my own self-reflection and the priceless guidance of those around me, I was able to recognize what I needed to let go of in my life at the time and embark on a new and exciting journey that led me to found 4word. Isn’t it incredible what can happen when we listen to God and let go of what’s holding us back?
After my sabbatical, I returned to work refreshed, energized, and ready to continue on my career path with fervor. Yes, it was hard to have that conversation with my boss about stepping back, but I will always be glad that I did.
Get In The Correct Headspace
If you are in or about to be in a situation that will require a “lean back” conversation with your boss or manager, you need to carefully consider exactly what your new situation will require before you meet with your superior to talk. Preparing beforehand will allow you more effectively discuss your options and offer solutions to any potential hangups.
First, you’ll need to identify exactly what kind of changes you need to make, and how soon they need to be implemented. With my son, I had an immediate need, so my timeline was somewhat abrupt. If your situation allows you some lead time, it’s best to start having those conversations with your boss as far in advance as possible. This will give your boss and your team enough time to plan any necessary personnel shifts.
You need to decide going in whether you are prepared to quit if your request isn’t granted, and if so, how long you can give them to find a replacement. Don’t walk into a meeting making threats; just be open about the reality of your situation, whatever it is.
Exactly how much you share about your situation is completely a matter of personal preference. For me, I had worked with my boss Mike for many years, so I knew that he shared my faith and my priorities around family. I felt very comfortable sharing with him everything that was happening at the time. Your relationship with your boss may not be as open, and that’s okay. Share enough so that your boss gets a realistic sense of the situation and that’s that. For example, say that you need to work afternoons from home because your elderly mother has dementia and has to have someone with her at all times. Divulging the specifics of her care or your mixed emotions about the situation is not necessary.
Be A Trailblazer.
What you do impacts other people in the office, and any major change you make to your schedule is likely to someone else’s in response. Minimize this disruption by preparing the way in advance.
Become an effective delegator. If you are in a managerial or team leader role, give members of your team opportunities to take on “stretch assignments” that will prepare them to step in for you if and when the time comes. Keep good records and make sure that your team understands how to find information when they need it. Communicate clearly and often so that everyone knows what your plans and expectations are.
Make It Easy For Everyone.
Every employee should strive to be the best they can be. I cannot emphasize this enough. The better you are at your job, the more reliable and committed you have shown yourself to be and you’ll likely be more successful when you ask for flexibility. It’s also vitally important to have a clear game plan laid out for your time away. Propose what your working hours/locations will be, who can step in for you if needed, and how you will keep in touch with your boss and teammates. Prior to my sabbatical, I had already been preparing a successor to eventually step into my role. I told my company that I saw the ten weeks as a good opportunity for him to get some hands-on experience and perspective about what the position entailed.
When I took time away, I knew it was temporary, and I was able to tell the company how long I would be out. If your situation requires a more permanent change, try offering a trial period. Communicate what your ideal schedule would be, and say something like “I know my job and I do it well, I’m committed to this company and I want to make it work, give me three months to show you that it can.”
If you are experiencing or may soon experience a season when you need to “lean back” at your job, it probably won’t be comfortable. You are not alone and this is not the end of your career! Every career has seasons, and many employees emerge from a “leaning back” season in their careers stronger and more fulfilled.
If you find yourself approaching such a time in your life, begin laying the groundwork for the adjustments your situation will require. The more thoughtful your approach to the transition and the more dedicated your service, the more successful your transition will be, not only away from your job, but also when you return.
Diane’s involvement with the Halftime Institute played a key role in her halftime journey. Could it help you on your journey? Take a look at our Members and Fellows program page to see if the Halftime Institute is right for you. To talk to a member of our team, Contact us HERE.
To learn more about 4word, visit their website for information on their weekly blogs, programs like the 4word: Mentor Program and the 4word: Member Insider membership, and how to get involved in a 4word: Local Group.