How to Ask for Special Treatment at Work

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By Chip Cutter, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Sean Ryan's schedule becomes a juggling act this time of year.

Come springtime the public relations account manager in Richmond, Va., has to balance his work responsibilities with coaching a varsity high school baseball team. And to be an effective coach he needs to leave work early to supervise practices, attend games and travel to tournaments.

It's a common situation these days. Many workers face scheduling conflicts in April and May as they seek time off to coach Little League teams, attend school recitals or go to graduation events.

But getting time away isn't always easy, especially when staffing is tight and overloaded co-workers might be reluctant to pitch in. So, here are some tips for making a deal with your boss, without alienating colleagues in the process.

MAKE REQUEST EARLY

If have a special request, seek approval as early as possible.

So, if you know that you'll be helping out with a school play, tell your employer early.

While interviewing for a position, tell the employer about your obligation after a job offer is extended, said Priscilla Claman, a Boston-based career consultant and the author of "Ask: How to Get What You Want and Need at Work."

At that time, employers are often willing to negotiate, which could give you a chance to slip in your request.

"It works extraordinarily well," she said. "It's an easy thing to do when they know they want you."

OFFER ALTERNATIVES

When approaching your boss, explain your dilemma and offer something in return.

So if you want to leave at a specific time, be willing to come in early or work late to make up for it.

If you're already working nonstop, and can't add any extra hours to your day, volunteer to work a holiday or use up some vacation time, said Robert Trumble, a professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Offering to make up the time goes a long way in appeasing employers, said Joanne Brown, a marketing communications manager at a robotics company in upstate New York.

Brown cares for her 81-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer's disease. As a result, she often needs to come in late to work, since mornings are particularly difficult. To make up for it, she stays late and makes it clear to colleagues that she's available, even if she's not in the office. She's also found success by being honest with her bosses.

"If you approach people on a person-to-person kind of level," she said, "you'd be surprised at how willing they are to work with you."

TAKE MANAGEMENT'S PERSPECTIVE

Indeed, workplace experts say it's essential to consider your boss' perspective when making an argument.

If everyone in your department is working evenings or weekends to make a deadline, then it's probably not the best time to ask for preferential treatment.

Likewise, think about how you're viewed in the office, said John Millikin, a management professor at Arizona State University, and a former vice president of human resources at Motorola Inc.

Does your boss see you as someone who's always asking for something? Or, are you recognized as a high performer who's willing to pull your weight? That can make a big difference in getting approval.

"You've got to be perceived by that manager as wanting to contribute to the success of the organization," he said.

PREPARE YOUR COLLEAGUES

Because staffing is often tight, co-workers may be peeved to see you sneak out early. This is especially true if they're coping with piles of additional work. So it's crucial that you communicate with them, too.

Claman, the Boston career consultant, says it helps to prepare your co-workers for your request.

So if you want to coach your son's football team in the fall, make it clear now why that's important. Let colleagues know that you may request to leave early, and ask what you can do to avoid putting more pressure on them.

That should help to diffuse any negative feelings, Claman said.

Ryan, the Virginia baseball coach, says his co-workers are understanding, partly because they know coaching is one of his passions. (He's led the team for the past seven years, even bringing it to the state playoffs.)

They're also accepting of the arrangement because Ryan leaves his cell phone number and contact information, and makes it clear that colleagues can always contact him. He also picks up less-glamorous assignments throughout the year to show his appreciation.

ESTABLISH A SYSTEM FOR REQUESTS

But be aware that striking an atypical deal with your boss can breed resentment, especially if co-workers think a boss is showing favoritism.

So, if possible, encourage supervisors to come up with a system for approving special requests, said Susan Cantrell, a research fellow with the consulting giant Accenture, and co-author of the forthcoming book, "Workforce of One."

If every employee gets to pick from the same menu of options — such as leaving early, if needed, or taking a half day occasionally — that builds a positive workplace, because everyone has similar opportunities.

"Most employees expect that kind of individualized treatment," she said. But it needs to be clearly communicated by bosses and, "most importantly, fair."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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