#541 Innovative Leader Volume
10, Number 10
It Time to Downshift?
Drake was founder of Drake Beam Morin, a human resources
consulting firm. He
lives in Kennebunkport, Maine (email@example.com).
He is author of Downshifting:
How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More (Berrett-Koehler, San
Today a variety
of forces converge on us at work, resulting in increased pressure
and incredible demands on our time.
Some of these forces are subtle, like coming in on Saturday
because the boss and some coworkers are likely at the workplace.
Other forces are overpowering, such as a demand to “meet
the numbers” when the numbers probably can’t be met.
On top of these pressures, management may be forced to get
more productivity from fewer people.
efforts enhance profits, they also make for long, strenuous work
weeks that can drive conscientious workers into the ground.
When people are continually overworked, it can unbalance
their lives, interfere with their relationships, and even ruin
their workplace creativity will be inhibited.
How bad are these pressures for you?
How bad are they for your staff?
Perhaps you should take action, if you want to retain your
own, and your staff’s energies and dedication. Consider
downshifting to a schedule and pace that will help you, your
family, and your organization.
Have your staff read this article as well.
Here’s a test,
for you and your staff, that will indicate signs of overwork:
My family complains about my absence at many evening meals.
I bring work home almost every weekend.
I have uncomfortable feelings about my strong work focus.
At work, I experience frustration about never seeming to
get caught up.
I often feel best when I’m busy, whether it’s at work
I call into work at least twice while away on vacation.
I postponed or changed my vacation dates at least once
during the past year.
I’ve been quietly harboring a desire to work less and get
off the treadmill.
I feel angry about all that my employer expects of me.
Those close to me often express displeasure about my being
away so much on business trips.
I feel guilty when I leave work on time.
Strategies for Downshifting
serious about wanting more time for yourself and your family, you
may need to make significant changes in your work patterns.
These changes can be low-risk, including:
• Keep your lunch time
personal calls, exercise, or simply rest and relax.
• Set more reasonable
stress of unrealistic deadlines result in longer hours or weaker
• Say “no” to some
rejecting those you dislike or find unsatisfying, you’ll gain
time and enjoy your work more.
• Declare your priority
for family. While
in some organizations, this can be the kiss of death, in others it
will be honored and respected.
• Avoid wasting weekends
on business travel. Try
not to attend distant meetings on Mondays or Fridays.
• Make your personal and
family appointments firm.
Without putting your personal commitments on your calendar,
your work commitments will take priority.
• Take your family on
business trips. Add
a fun weekend to a business trip.
• Set stop lines.
Set a time beyond which you will not work, with the
exception of a high-priority or crisis situation.
• Negotiate extra
vacation time. Perhaps
take this extra time for no pay.
• Move closer to work.
So many people spend several hours just commuting.
Options for Downsizing
These changes are
riskier because they mean a reduced physical presence in the
workplace and are more difficult to sell.
The upside is they have great potential for helping you
change your lifestyle.
• Arrange for flextime.
To sell your company on flextime, explain exactly why it
won’t impede your effectiveness and how, ideally, it may enhance
• Work part-time.
While it may mean feeling out of the loop or dealing with
resentful co-workers, you and your company may find your total
productivity matches that of your former full-time schedule.
• Make a lateral or
downward move. This
calls for identifying a position or department that requires less
time, knowing the extent to which you have the qualifications to
move into it, and understanding the ease with which your boss can
find your replacement. Put
a positive spin on the request—for instance, speak of it as a
“developmental step” that will enhance your value to the
organization—so it isn’t viewed as a sign of weakness or
doesn’t give the appearance that you can’t hack it.
If this is relevant to you, present it’s benefits, i.e.,
it will reduce office overhead or increase your productivity by
eliminating your commuting time, and make clear your flexibility
about coming in whenever necessary.
• Job share.
This often enhances productivity—you and your partner may
bring different strengths to the job—and shows you’re no less
committed to the work or the company.
Find another qualified person who wants to share your job.
• Take early or gradual
retirement if you’re near retirement age.
Present a plan to show how the phase-out can be
accomplished with minimal disruption to your work.
• Refuse some promotions.
In turning down a promotion, be careful not to convey a
lack of ambition or zeal for the organization, and, instead,
emphasize your satisfaction with the company and your present
role, as well as your appreciation for the vote of confidence.
• Create a portfolio
career, a mix of part-time work, perhaps with self-employment.
Determine how you can leverage your knowledge and
experience in a variety of settings. How much do you want to work?
What skills do you want to employ?
Search the marketplace and, ultimately, approach your
organization with a plan.
Your Organization’s Buy-In
organization’s approval for your downshifting plan requires
effort. Enlist the strategies below and get started.
• Know what you want.
Don’t be wishy-washy.
Know exactly what you want to do and how it will play out
on the job. If you
are torn between downshifting options, go back to the drawing
board and narrow the focus.
• Make your boss a
friend. You need
your manager’s support, so it’s great if you already have a
close, trusting relationship.
If you don’t, begin to gain his or her favor by
initiating new avenues of communication or volunteering for a
project that needs doing if it won’t hurt your other priorities. Also consider “pre-selling” your downshifting desires by
mentioning the possibility of cutting back in ways that won’t
alarm your boss.
• Put it in writing.
It is essential, especially with high-risk options, that
you submit a written proposal with the same style and objectivity
as a capital expense request or a sales proposal. Be specific about what you want to do, explain how it enables
you to meet your performance goals, and pinpoint the benefits to
the company. If your
salary will be altered or prorated because of the new arrangement,
state clearly how you envision it.
• Tap into your support
may be others in your organization, such as the human resources
staff, who you’ll need to bring on board.
Seek out other influential persons who could serve as
advocates of your plan and ask for their reactions and support.
• Highlight your
explicit about your willingness to adapt to the organization’s
needs, assuring your boss you’ll be available during peak times
or crises. To
demonstrate your flexibility, consider offering to downshift on a
• Investigate human
resource policies and practices.
Get to know you organization’s policies—formal or
informal—about issues such as part-time work, flextime,
telecommuting, and job sharing. If the policies support downshifting, cite them in your
proposal. If they
don’t support downshifting, at least you’ll be aware of the
• Anticipate your
manager’s objections. Even
if you make a strong and positive presentation, objections are
bound to arise—“What does this say about your commitment?”
or “Everyone will want to do it.”
While it is helpful to have some answers ready for
anticipated objections, don’t fall into the trap of responding
quickly with your prepared answers.
Instead, listen carefully, ask questions, and clarify all
• Have a “Plan B.”
Suppose you run into a stone wall—even a flat-out
“no”? Instead of
thinking this is the end of it, have in mind a next step you can
propose—something that keeps your downshifting proposal alive.
For example, “I understand why you’re not positive
about my downshifting idea. If
it’s OK with you, I’d like to consider and address the issues
you raised. Maybe I
could find some adjustments to make it more palatable.
Can we talk about it a little more next week?”
If you are really
burned out, but want to remain a creative and productive, taking
the risky steps to downshift may be the best thing for both you
and the company.