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I am a full-time, salaried software engineer who has been with my current company for 3 years in good standing, and I'm currently struggling with chronic lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) that makes it painful to use a computer. I'm considering asking my employer if I can reduce my minimum required working hours from 40 hours per week to something like 30 hours per week.

I understand that this may not go over well.

What are the potential issues with this request? Is this a reasonable thing to ask?

Edit: I work in the USA

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    Please specify your location. In Germany this would be considered not a reasonable request because you would be expected to take paid medical leave (which would help you heal faster). – Roland Feb 23 '18 at 12:45
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    Do you want to keep earning what you currently earn? Do you want this to be temporary, a form of 'sick leave'? Or are you planning on switching to part-time work for a longer time, and are willing to earn less? Renegotiating from a full-time to part-time contract is a bit different from negotiating less work for full pay. Does your employer already know you have a chronic problem, and are there any accommodations they already made for you? – Tinkeringbell Feb 23 '18 at 12:49
  • @Roland in Germany employees do have the right to ask for reduced hours/flexible working – Neuromancer Feb 23 '18 at 13:13
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    @Neuromancer yeah - but in Germany if you have a medical problem you don't work at all because you're expected to be at home recovering, not still working 30+ hours a week. – Erik Feb 23 '18 at 13:34
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    @Tinkeringbell I would expect some kind of pay cut since I'd be working less hours. I wouldn't want to do sick leave since this is a chronic problem I've been dealing with for years and is now getting a bit worse. Yes, they are aware but I've been able to manage it thus far. I alternate standing and sitting, take walks, and stretch plenty. – Jordan Feb 24 '18 at 0:17
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What are the potential issues with this request? Is this a reasonable thing to ask?

It depends on the type of work you're doing. Can you get your workload done in 30hrs instead of 40hrs? Do they need to recruit a new employee for 10hrs a week to do your 'left over' work? Do your clients require you to work 40hrs? Or is it okay if your work just takes longer (same hours, but more days)?

Potential issue (that I can think of) is your employer thinking your work cannot be done part-time. (This may be for good reasons!)

Have any of you ever changed from full 40 hours per week to less and been happy with that decision?

A couple of years ago I went from full time (40 hours) to 80% (32 hours) because I wanted to and it's been the best decision of my (working) life.

"Cons"

  • Everything is 80% (vacation days, pay), so check if you can still pay your rent after going to less hours

  • I have a fixed day off, always Monday, if a public holiday is on Monday, my day off is 'lost'

Pros

I feel much better myself, more fun at work and at life in general.

Ps. I'm in the Netherlands

  • Hi Caroline, thank you for your insights. How did you make the decision to go to 80%? How did you broach the topic with your employer? Is this common for the Netherlands? – Jordan Feb 24 '18 at 0:19
  • Hi Jordan, I was not feeling well due to work (stressed, unhappy). I spoke with some friends that were working less than full time. Then I requested a meeting with my manager about the possibilities of working less. Told him about how I was feeling and I thought working less would help me with that. HR gave me two examples of my "new" pay slip (80% and 90%). After I decided I could still pay the rent, I decided 4 days/week was going to help me more than 9 days/2 weeks. I am not certain if it's common in the Netherlands, I guess it depends on the profession. In my area it's not very common. – Caroline Feb 27 '18 at 9:00
  • Adapting vacation days doesn't match my calculation. If you work 10% of a normal day with full vacation days, you are working a total of 10%. If your vacation days are reduced too, you are working more than 10%. – puck Aug 10 '18 at 4:20
  • @puck not really, you only have to take vacation days for the days you're actually working. Say 100% = 5 days per week = 25 days vacation a year = 5 weeks vacation a year. 80% = 4 days per week = 20 days vacation a year = 5 weeks vacation a year. So yes, the absolute number of vacation days goes down (25 -> 20), but relatively it's the same (5 weeks). How do you suggest I could improve my answer to make this more clear? – Caroline Aug 10 '18 at 12:23
  • @Caroline I have to admit that I have no idea how this is handled, my thoughts are pure math only :-) Assume you only work 1%. You can go to work 0.08 hours each day (stupid but it's an example) and have only 0.25 days free, according to your calculation. So there is no free day at all. Of course this is a huge difference compared to going to work 1% of days (something like 2.5 days a year), but then full time each day. – puck Aug 12 '18 at 9:36
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Consider different accommodations other than a limited work week:

  • longer and possibly more frequent break periods
  • a modified seating arrangement
  • taking on other tasks that require less typing (I realize this can be difficult for a programmer, but you're team would probably prefer to have you talk to clients and customers on the phone instead of them.).
  • use speech recognition for answer email and writing other documents/non programming typing.
  • having ice, heating pad, pain medication available at your desk

You're probably not the first person with this affliction that needs to have a job, so speak with a physical or occupational therapist and find out what has worked for other patients. Spreading out a 40 hour work week may be just as good as 30 with fewer breaks.

  • Thank you for your advice, however I've already implemented most of these things. I've also already been to multiple physical therapists. – Jordan Feb 24 '18 at 0:17
  • @Jordan - since you've been to multiple physical therapists are they recommending you decrease the number of hours of typing in a given week? – user8365 Feb 26 '18 at 19:50
  • Well they always recommend reduced computer time in general. – Jordan Feb 27 '18 at 13:08
  • @Jordan - there are many ways to reduce computer time. My guess it would be amount of time without a break should be reduced. Otherwise, are you going to take 3 days off of work and not touch a keyboard? – user8365 Feb 27 '18 at 13:28
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You can ask, but be prepared to receive a no. It depends on your company and your boss though. The key thing is everything is open to negotiation. If you can present a solid argument to the company why working reduced hours would be a benefit to yourself and the company, you're more likely to receive it.

Example of things are talking about self care and looking after yourself. Would they prefer an employee who can work 100% for 30 hours or an employee who can only work 80% for 40 hours? Would they prefer someone who tries to solve their issue with small time off now, or wait and let your issues develop further so you have to take actual medical leave instead?

Be prepared to receive reduced pay, less benefits (E.g. holiday allowance) and other things. Also, if you are in a employed in an at will state, an employer could take it as a sign of weakness and decide to let you go to find an employee in better health. However, you may be protected by law and regulations, but you'd need to check your local legislations.

I've known several people who have gone down to reduced hours, due to home commitments or self care, and have found it's allowed a new lease on life. This is in Western Europe though and not all shoes fit all feet!

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