Beyond Your Paycheck: 5 Things to Negotiate at Work


3. Maternity and Paternity Leave

Of all industrialized nations, America continues to lag in pro-parent policies: Paid family leave for new parents isn’t legally mandated, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993—which guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave—only covers employees at companies with more than 50 workers.

That may explain why just 16% of 250,000 HR professionals surveyed reported that their companies offered paid maternity or paternity leave beyond what is offered through short-term disability, according to a 2011 Society for Human Resource Management poll. Even so, there may still be wiggle room to get more time off after you have a child.

How to Get It: ”Though it’s extremely rare to get more than three months—with the exception of some states—you may find that instead, you’re able to negotiate a ‘soft re-entry,’” says Claire Bissot, human resources business development manager at CBIZ. “After your child’s birth, you might work just a few days a week, or arrange to work from home much of the time,” she notes. “Just be sure to consult with your human resources manager to make sure that reduced hours, even for a short period of time, don’t negatively impact benefits like health insurance.”

Lewis, of OperationsInc, agrees: “In an age where everyone’s available via email, it’s easy to remain an integral part of your work team even if you can’t physically be in the office.” And, he adds, your chances may be best outside of the corporate world. “Size matters. Smaller companies are less worried about setting a precedent for all employees, so they’re often more flexible.”

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“In an age where everyone’s available via email, it’s easy to remain an integral part of your work team even if you can’t physically be in the office.”

4. Vacation Time

The average U.S. worker in the private sector gets just ten days of paid vacation time and six paid holidays, according to The Center for Economic and Policy Research—but if you’re an asset to your company or hold a higher-level position, you’re well within your rights to ask for more time than you’ve been offered, says Lewis. “Keep in mind that you’re most likely to be given extra vacation under unusual circumstances,” he explains. “If you’re getting married and want to take a honeymoon, for example, or you have a sick relative you need to care for.”

How to Get It: If there isn’t an extenuating circumstance like a wedding or family emergency, your annual or biannual review is a good time to request extra vacation. Before you approach HR, be sure to check your ego at the door: “If you go in with the attitude that you need or expect a certain amount of extra time off—or worse, tell the manager that you will be taking it—then you’re going to encounter resistance,” cautions Lewis.

A tactful request that explains how you’ll minimize the effect of your absence on the company (“I’d like to take two weeks off to deal with some family problems. I intend to check my email regularly and work with my colleagues to make sure my projects are managed during that time”) is more likely to be honored—especially if you ask well in advance of when you hope to be out of the office.

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5. Project Placement

If you want to swim with the big fish, you need to spend time in deep water—which is why you can and should request to work on interesting projects that may be out of your (perceived) league or skill set, explains Berger, the New York career coach. In fact, research shows that the freedom to make choices about your work builds autonomy—one of the central tenants of workplace satisfaction.

How to Get It: Unless it’s an extremely sensitive or time-intensive project, you don’t need to put your request in writing, says Berger—but be prepared to start the conversation with your supervisor and/or the project manager by telling them exactly how you can add value to both project and the organization as a whole. “Even if you don’t get the go-ahead,” she continues, “by asking to be considered you’ve taken a positive step toward controlling how you’re perceived in your workplace.”

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  • Julie G

    I would add seemingly trivial things like parking or rides/vanpooling/carpooling. I live in a small city with wretched free parking opportunities, and something like the expense of driving to work and finding a place to park can end up costing you a lot of money every year if your employer doesn’t pay for it.

  • Pat Katepoo

    These are excellent examples of ordering “off the menu.” In my experience with coaching clients, asking with a first-rate written plan delivers exceptional outcomes in getting desired flexible work and maternity leave arrangements. Even when there is no employer policy.