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Want to prevent burnout? Try negotiating

It’s not just about money. Based on seven years of research, Kathryn Valentine says you can (and should) also negotiate work hours, location, your project, who you work with, when you will qualify for the next promotion, additional support, a bigger team, etc.

Want to prevent burnout? Try negotiating
[Source photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels]

As the working mom of a 2- and 4-year old, I have felt it.  This pandemic is exhausting and seems to just. Keep. Dragging. On. 

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I’m not the only one. A report released by McKinsey and LeanIn.org shows that one in three women are considering leaving the workforce or significantly downshifting. Research by the National Women’s Law Center shows that over 4.2 million women have left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic.  

In my interviews with HR professionals, it seems that the vast majority of women leaving the workforce are doing so without asking for what they need to stay and thrive. Since it costs companies up to twice as much to replace an employee rather than retain them, this is not in the best interest of the company. It’s also, likely, not in the long-term financial interest of the woman. Fidelity’s research shows that leaving the workforce—even for just a year—can set women back more than twice their annual salary due to forgone benefits and future pay growth.

There is plenty the government, and our companies, can do, but what can we do? Not only to stay in the workforce but to truly thrive?

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Ask for what you need. Research shows that women not only negotiate for access to roles but also for “the extra support to succeed in them.” But how do you do this? 

Based on seven years of research in the field, here are my top tips for successful negotiation.

Think big (and broad)

When I say “negotiations,” 60% of women primarily think of salary. That is true, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. You can also negotiate work hours, location, your project, who you work with, when you will qualify for the next promotion, additional support, a bigger team… truly anything you can think of. I know of one woman who negotiated that her workout would be from 11 am-1 pm, three days a week.  

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I recommend you sit down with your favorite drink and a pen and ask, “if I had a magic wand, what would my work look like?” Use that as inspiration for the various things you can negotiate.

When you negotiate multiple items—not just salary—there is significantly more opportunity to uncover hidden value. For example, one of my clients got a job offer that would require a cross-country move. Her boss wanted her to start in two weeks, but she couldn’t figure out how to execute a move that quickly. They solved the problem by doubling her signing bonus so she could pay someone to handle the entire move.  That was a win for both parties.

Negotiate collaboratively

The media often portrays a negotiation as an aggressive, competitive battle to the end. It does not have to be this way. Instead, consider approaching the negotiation collaboratively: us vs. the problem, rather than me vs. you. Not only do many women report this is much more authentic for them, but it also allows us to leverage something we are really good at—working with others.  

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Ask communally

At some point during the (hopefully collaborative) negotiation, you will need to state your ask. Rather than asking with a focus on you, (e.g. “it’s only fair if I get Y”), research shows that explaining the impact on others “can improve women’s social and negotiation outcomes at the same time.” In other words, it will prevent you from igniting the double bind and potentially suffering backlash.

For example, if you need to be off-line from 5-7 pm to keep the wheels on the bus at home, you could say, “I’m very proud of delivering on X project for the team. We are on the path to accomplishing Y this quarter. In order to deliver the best work for the company, I’d like to work when I am the most productive. Ideally, I would be able to be off-line from 5-7 pm.  What do you think about that?” If you get pushback, suggest a two-week trial (“what if we just try this for two weeks?”) and then be the most productive you’ve ever been.

Reward yourself

Our emotions often dictate our outcomes.  Putting yourself in a position to feel positive emotions—happiness, excitement, optimism—is the best way to enter a negotiation. I recommend you prime happiness by planning a reward you will enjoy immediately following the negotiation, for being brave enough to have that conversation. It can be anything from that bottle of wine you’ve been wanting to a weekend away with friends—whatever will make you happy.

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Kathryn Valentine is the founder of Worthmore Strategies, a consulting firm that helps companies promote and retain women.  


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