Career Coach Scaling back on work travel, tagging out of team-building activities, and more.
QWhen I accepted my job, I agreed to do a certain amount of business-related travel every year. Now that I’m a mom, it’s not as easy to hop on a plane as it used to be. How do I tell my boss I need to cut back on travel?
AApproach this meeting with your manager as a discussion on your role and how to reorganize it, says Lucy English, Ph.D., a human resources consultant. “Mention the change in your life for context, but don’t focus too much on the personal. Think of it as a work adjustment, and approach the conversation in a spirit of collaboration.”
Examine what you’ve accomplished on the road and see if it might be worth it to make fewer, more-meaningful trips, says Kori Renn, coaching and student services lead for the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. She also recommends exploring alternative working methods with your manager, such as telecommuting, as a way to reduce your travel while keeping your role with the company. If it’s not an option, then propose new, related responsibilities you can take on to cover the time you would spend on the road, and volunteer to train colleagues to replace you on the business trips.
“To be successful in this ask, it can’t just be about you no longer wanting to travel,” Renn says. “There has to be a business reason to drive the travel reduction. If you approach your conversation in this way, with a plan, there’s a good chance you’ll be successful, and you’ll show your manager that you’re thinking strategically about your role and the success of the company.”
QIn the interest of saving time, whenever I lead meetings at work, I always skip the chitchat and get straight to my point. A male supervisor told me that I need to be friendlier at meetings and that male co-workers have complained about how direct I am. How should I respond to these suggestions?
AWe can’t blame you for jumping to the task at hand, or feeling like this resembles the infuriating “you should smile more” critique from insecure men. But it won’t take much time to begin with banter, and it can actually improve your presentation by strengthening your connection to your co-workers. “Don’t underestimate the importance of pleasantries that precede the formal time with your colleagues,” says Lauren McKenna, partner at Philadelphia law firm Fox Rothschild
LLP and co-chair of the firm’s Women Initiative. “That time can grow relationships and develop camaraderie.”
If chatting before meetings derails them, then catch up with colleagues afterward. According to McKenna, post-meeting talks might be even more valuable because “people have had a chance to think about the issues on the table and are more free to discuss them, as well as to connect more personally.”
Buffy Simoni, president of discount packaging supply company Paper Mart, adds, “Engage with colleagues during the day and get to know them through personal gestures, such as asking how they’re doing.” It seems obvious, but it’s crucial for happier interactions.
QMy company hosts monthly “teambuilding” exercises that usually involve group activities after work or on weekends. Often I can’t attend because I’m busy with my kids. I’m worried that I won’t look like an engaged member of the staff if I keep declining. What are some ways to bond with my team without sacrificing family time?
AThe first thing you should do is make it clear to your co-workers that you would like to join them on these outings, but you won’t always be able to because you’re a working parent. “I have found that being upfront about the challenges in your schedule is the best way to handle it,” says McKenna. “Your company and your colleagues will likely appreciate and respect the time you do spend participating even more.”
To make up for the lost team-building hours, squeeze some quality time with fellow staffers into your daily schedule. Simoni suggests going out for lunch or coffee together. Or you can offer to plan a weekday afternoon team-building event, especially during slower times of year at your office.
But it would probably be wise to attend at least one post-work event every few months, says McKenna. If the problem is you’re not getting enough advance notice, ask the person in charge of planning if it’s possible to schedule and announce some of the meet-ups ahead of time— that way you can make the necessary arrangements to attend and have fun.