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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Tricky Conversation Template: How to Tell Your Boss You Want to Work Part Time

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I felt nervous when I left for maternity leave. Yes, mainly about bringing a child into the world; but if I’m being honest, I wondered about my job too. What if my team realized I was replaceable while I was gone?

While they didn’t have any major revelations about my role, I did. I felt—for certain—that I wanted to keep my job. Maybe you’re nodding along, because you care about your work, too. But after you returned you realized that your workload just wasn’t sustainable, and your ideal situation would be transitioning from a full-time to part-time role.

No sugarcoating it: It’s a big ask. It means that others on your team will have to pick up the additional work (or a new hire may even be in order). There will be factors that are out of your hands ranging from company policy to team structure, budget, and resources. And, yes once you’ve mentioned your current load isn’t working for you, you can’t just pretend that conversation never happened if the answer is no.

But that’s also not to say it’s impossible. Maybe new people are joining your team, junior members are being promoted, or an intern is coming on full-time. As with anything else, the only way to know is to ask.

If you’ve weighed all that out and are ready to explore the idea (especially if you’ve decided you need part-time hours regardless), here’s how to go about it:

How to Prep

To begin, think about ways your role could be compartmentalized and then divided. List out tasks that naturally go together, as well as those that you feel someone else could do equally well, as well as any group initiatives where you’re an extra warm body. No, you don’t want to approach your boss with a project-by-project list of what you’d like to keep and ditch; but this exercise can help you think creatively about how you’d split your role into two.

For example, my current title includes “writer/editor,” so it seems pretty intuitive that I’d pitch splitting those two words up, so my manager would need to find someone with experience as a writer or editor, as opposed to both, which requires more skills.

Of course, other titles aren’t so obvious. In a previous job, I was a program manager tasked with recruiting and interviewing graduating students, referring them to partner organizations, and coordinating with volunteers during their fellowship years. Since I left, this job’s been split across the team, so one person is the point of contact for volunteers across programs ranging from fellowship to mid-career, and another reaches out to all applicants.

Ideally, you’ll come up with a large chunk of your role that you can foresee someone else (internally or externally) doing equally as well. The other half, the half you’re pitching to keep, should be what you excel at.

Think about your specialized skills and what your boss has praised at past performance reviews. This is the foundation for your argument: that you’ll add so much value to the work you’re retaining that keeping you on and changing the team composition will be better than simply replacing you.

What to Say

It sounds like this:

Thanks so much for making the time to talk to me about my workload. As always, it’s my goal to do the best job possible.

To be candid, I don’t feel that I have the capacity to keep working at this level. I care about this work deeply, so rather than running myself into the ground and risk having something drop, I wanted to speak to you proactively about a possible solution.

The best situation for me at this time would be to bump down from a full to a part-time role. (If applicable: I recall [some other creative work arrangement] or I know we’re looking to hire a new team member and—) I’ve thought through how my role can be split up.

I could retain [part of role]. I [have developed strong relationships/possess certain skills, have x amount of experience] that makes me particularly valuable in this capacity. At the same time, I know l I could train [someone else/ current team member/ a new hire] to take on the other half of role. I could see this benefiting the composition of our team by [value add].

I know this ask involves broader considerations and am prepared to discuss changes to salary, benefits, and title. If it’s not possible at this time, I’d love to discuss any opportunities to cut back even slightly in the meantime, discuss flex or remote work arrangements, or get a better sense of if or when this might be an option.

It’s true this isn’t an easy talk to have with your boss. But if you’ve come to the decision you absolutely need to change your role, it’s probably easier than sticking it out and driving yourself crazy, or cutting your losses and jumping straight into a job search.

So, go into it well-prepared and with a positive, collaborative mindset: You just could get the ball rolling toward the exact role you’re looking for.