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Nicole Williams

Nicole Williams

January 21, 2015

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Time Away From The Office

If you’re looking to push back your start time to 10 a.m. so you can hit the gym, or you want a three-month sabbatical to travel through Thailand, it doesn’t mean the end of your career. If you think your boss simply won’t budge—that you’re too indispensable to take time away from work—think again.

While dramatic, one of the best examples I’ve heard about creating flexibility and opportunity regarding time away from the workplace comes from a Director of Marketing at a major television network, Sherri Rifkin. Sherri, an incredibly creative executive and writer, had been working on a fiction manuscript for months. She came to the conclusion that in order to really focus and complete her book, she’d need some time away from her full-time position. Sound impossible? Sherri didn’t think so. She created a game-plan, a timeline, and a list of reasons why her company would actually benefit from her sabbatical. Her bosses agreed, she got her manuscript done, and when she returned to the office, she received a promotion.

I love this story because it’s both inspiring and resourceful. There really are ways that you can get time away from your career; it’s simply a matter of getting inside the head of your boss.

SHE THINKS: How’s this going to affect me?

This could be the best experience and opportunity for your life and even for your career, but initially your boss isn’t going to see it this way. Even if she’s a master of concealing her feelings, her first response will be some variation of “How does this affect me?” The more quickly you can answer this question, the more quickly your boss will to be able to really listen to your request.

Be prepared for a less-than-excited initial response. Your boss may simply be surprised and need a moment to take it in. Once she has, explain what your request will mean to her. Relieve her fears. She will most likely be wondering if she’ll have to pick up the slack for you, if it’s going to make her look bad with her boss or clients, or if you’ve got one foot out the door and this is a first step away from the organization.

SHE THINKS: How is this going to affect the rest of the team?

Your boss’s next question will be directly tied to what the change in your time commitment is going to mean to your output, and to the rest of the team. Before talking with her supervisor, Sherri reviewed all outstanding deliverables, identified who could take on specific tasks, and then wisely took her business colleague out for a drink to bring her on-side. It’s your responsibility to ensure your team will not be adversely affected by your time away from the office.

SHE THINKS: Is she going to come back?

Once she’s gotten past her immediate fear or trepidation and you’ve clearly articulated how you’re going to take responsibility to make it happen, your boss will have another key question: “Is she going to come back?” Sherri was smart enough to anticipate this concern. She positioned her sabbatical as something that would benefit the network and re-assured her supervisors that she would be coming back. To establish her loyalty and dedication, she outlined her history and creative contributions to the company. She finished this portion of her pitch by explaining that the opportunity to focus on her personal creative pursuits would not take away, but enhance her efforts on behalf of the company – she would come back invigorated and renewed.

SHE THINKS: Okay. Sounds Good

This might be the thought that surprises you most. Prior to having this discussion, Sherri had reservations. But with the support of another colleague she came to the conclusion, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Because Sherri made her request in a clear, organized manner—and because she positioned the proposal relative and even as beneficial to her employer—it was approved just two days later. In her own words, “it was so easy. I was totally dumbfounded.”

HOW WE SPEND OUR DAYS IS, OF COURSE, HOW WE SPEND OUR LIVES.
-Annie Dillard