This morning, a male friend called me with a management issue. He wanted my thoughts on how to handle a situation with one of his female employees who is struggling with a work and family conflict.
The problem is that each member of his staff takes a turn with a task that requires they stay late at the office one night a week. This one employee, a mom, has a young child at daycare and finds it impossible to rely on her husband or a family member to pick the child up when it is her turn to stay late. She approached her boss and told him she couldn't continue to stay late once a week.
"She's a good employee," my friend explained. "I don't want her to quit. But we are making everyone else take a turn at staying late."
My immediate response was to rattle off questions.
First, why is this just this woman's problem? If there's a father in the picture, why isn't he working to find a solution, too?
Second, if she knows in advance she needs to stay late once a week, why can't she plan for it?
Last, and most important, why did she approach her boss with a problem, rather than a solution?
The number one rule in negotiation of a work life accommodation is bring a solution to the table.
I advised my friend to tell his employee to come back with a proposed solution to this dilemma. Then, she and her boss can negotiate from there.
If I were the frustrated mom, I might have asked my boss if there's a task I could take on early in the day in order to skip my turn on the late night rotation.
Long ago, I learned that bosses respond best to proposed solutions rather than problems. Because this woman's co-workers are single or have no kids, there is a possibility of resentment. As a manager, my friend needs to make sure whatever accommodation he makes for this working mom comes off as fair to all.
We work in an era when the needs of the 21st Century workforce must be considered. In two-job families, men and women may both confront work life balance challenges. No one wants to lose his or her job over a child care issue. And, a good boss wants to keep a good employee.
As I hung up with my friend, he said: "Let's see what she comes up with. I really want this to work out."
I pretty sure most bosses feel that way.