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Short version : How best to negotiate increased number of days off (or "equivalents" : working part time (80-90%), accumulating extra hours as days off) instead of higher salary?

Long version : A bit over a year ago, I was officially hired by a big company B, in order to work on a joint engineering project with startup A. In practice, all the interviews and even negotiation happened with company A, and I spent all my time working at company A. Salary was a bit low but still Ok (the CEO of A offered what he sought was the max B could pay for my years of experience, overestimated it even a bit, but decided to pay for the difference).

Now the contract with B is near its end, and company A would like to hire me directly (no legal issues: intellectual property is owned by A, no clause in contract forbidding it, company B also profits if I stay and the project continues). The CEO of A just contacted me to setup a meeting to discuss it.

On my side, I would be happy to stay (nice team, interesting projects, nice location), provided I get a good offer (but I have no problem walking away otherwise : I have no family to feed, enough money aside for a long time, and a strong enough CV to easily find another job).

What I would like to achieve :

  • get payed according to my skill level : comparing to 2 other colleagues with the nearest roles, this should be about +20% (NB : previously I wasn't on the payroll of company A, and company B had better benefits. Company A knows my salary at company B)
  • trade some/most of this "increase" into more days off rather than salary. Those "days off" can take whatever form : extra days off, working part time (80% or 90%), or just having a 35 hours/week contract with extra hours taken as hours/days off some time later.

The best possible outcome would be an 80% contract with a slight increase on the yearly salary.

This might seem a rather "high" increase, but I have a few arguments :

  • until now, I was mainly limited to work on a specific project : I can now work on whatever project the company needs me
  • I was hired for my knowledge in field F. I'm also skilled in field G, which I used for the project, but also to do lots of support/debug for the company, in which nobody else is really skilled in G (and the only one with always decent skill is leaving the company)
  • finding someone able to replace me for both fields is difficult, and the CEO never wanted to hire someone specifically for G (it's partly outsourced with poor results, and partly just badly done when I'm not helping)
  • I already know all the projects, so no need to train someone new
  • It's far easier for me to find another job than for them to replace me

So I'm in a rather stronger position than usual, and both side know well the other one.

So how best to negotiate for more days/time off in priority (more salary is less important)?

Any good ideas how to convince the CEO to accept more time off (main arguments so far are

  1. it not, I ask for far more salary
  2. it gives more flexibility to increase workload before deadlines)?
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    Without knowing the CEO, it's very difficult for us to give advice here. What you've written already is a good business case - but past that, it comes down to what the CEO values. Jun 27, 2023 at 21:45
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    Thanks for your answer. Is there any general advice on negotiating time off? For example is it better to first negotiate salary with normal time off, and then "trade" salary for time off, or is it better to negotiate first time off independently of salary, and then salary, or both at the same time? Or is there any form of time off (payed time of, unpaid time off but higher salary, part-time or getting back overtime as days off) which is easier to accept for employers? Or are there any general "pros" for the employer to have a part time engineer?
    – Sandro
    Jun 27, 2023 at 21:52
  • Most companies (US) would probably rather give you extra money and very little usable time off. That's just a sad fact, there are some exceptions. I wish you well, however. If you are asking for extra time-off that's also just a red-flag to many companies, although since they know you, that may be mitigated. If you can trade money for time in your private life (e.g. hire people to mow your lawn and wash your car, etc.) then you may get what you want in a different way. Jun 27, 2023 at 22:37
  • In France, its rather more flexible about time off (some companies, like company B offer a bit more than required to everyone (negotiated by the unions)). In the previous company,after the first contract (6month), I negotiated one extra week. For trading money for time in private life, there might be a few opportunities, but quite limited (I don't care much about the car being washed, I have no lawn to mow, ...) and the few I see would have very bad time/cost ratios (exemple : paying a cook instead of cooking, knowing I already cook once or twice for the whole week).
    – Sandro
    Jun 28, 2023 at 6:06
  • And I'm mainly interested about full days (I have an hobby where full days are required, and I already use 90%+ of non forking days for it). But it makes a good argument for why I want days off rather than money : I'm at a point where extra money can't buy me much free time in private life
    – Sandro
    Jun 28, 2023 at 6:09

3 Answers 3

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So how best to negotiate for more days/time off in priority (more salary is less important)?

Ask for part-time work first (a 4-day week, or whatever it is you want), since that is your priority.

Once that is agreed, then work on the salary component, since that is less important.

Be prepared with an answer if they decide they don't want someone working part time. And be prepared if they are willing to offer part-time work, but only at less salary (like 20% less).

Also think about questions you could ask that would ensure you actually get the reduced time you want, and won't be constantly called to work additional time.

Maybe what you are seeking is more common in France?

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  • Thanks, I will try to negociate for part time first. If they don't want part time at all, then it's not a no go, but I will be asking for (far) more money to compensate (if they don't accept this either, then I will look somewhere else). If they accept part time, I will set 2 limits : no decrease in absolute salary, and at least some increase in "salary per day" : I can settle on 10% time of instead of 20% + small salary increase.
    – Sandro
    Jun 28, 2023 at 6:20
  • For when to take this time off, I was rather going for flexibility for both sides : I use it when I want (provided the period is OK for the company, as with days off), but also make sure not to use it in rush periods. So if asked in advance (or if I'm just at home), I have no problem to swap my days off. Otherwise, I'm usually in the mountains and hard to reach, so they already know they can reach me for a quick question early in the morning or late in the evening but that's all. And yes, working 80 or 90% is rather common in France (often done by parents, which I'm not).
    – Sandro
    Jun 28, 2023 at 6:24
  • Time off negotiation is a bit less common (but exists), excepted at company/branch level, where the unions (quite strong in France) often negotiated some extra time off for everyone (in company B, it's nearly 2 weeks extra in various forms)
    – Sandro
    Jun 28, 2023 at 6:26
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You can certainly ask, nothing wrong with it. You best approach and chances of success depend a fair bit on the culture of your company and your location.

Reduced work time

There are three fundamental way to structure this and all have their pros and cons

  1. Less hours per day. In my experience that does NOT work particularly well. Since start and end times are often already flexible most people will not be aware of your shorter work day and treat you with the same expectations like everyone else. If you live in a country that already has a short-ish work day, shaving off another hour may make it sort of impractical.
  2. Less days a per week. This one is easier and cleaner to execute. The main downside is that you are not available for meetings on a given weekday. Depending on how many meetings you have to attend this may or may not be a problem. 4 day work week is available in countries with shorter work weeks (mostly in Europe). It still requires some amount of special accommodation in the work planning (sprint planning for example).
  3. More Time Off This one is probably the easiest. Many companies already have a "unpaid time off" policy and which you can piggyback on. It also makes work planning straight forward: if you are not there next week, no one is going to assign work to you. You can discuss what "rules" apply: do you need/want to take extra time in bulk or in smaller increments. Do you want a fixed amount or can you flex within a certain range, etc.

It would be good to find out what your new employer already supports and what the existing policies are. Creating a new policy can be a significant barrier even if both parties are in agreement. It's a lot of administrative and legal work.

Salary Negotiation

You already have some good arguments but I think you forget an important one: Hiring you directly cuts out the middle man (company B). I'm guessing that if company B pays you X$, they will charge company A X+P% and 20% is on the low side for an employment agency. If you can find out what that surcharge is, you have a better idea what company A is currently paying for your services. That should be the starting point and 20% on top of your current company B salary seems quite reasonable.

If you go with option 3) above, no further negotiation is required. You agree on a 100% nominal salary and your actual gross pay will be reduced by the unpaid days taken in any pay period.

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  • I don't know what country your experiences refer to but in my experience from Germany and the Netherlands combining reduced weekly hours with flexible work times is super common and normal. In general there is also the option of translating overtime into more days off but there are rules or conventions limiting this. More time off, regardless of paid or unpaid is very unusual unless it is part of some specific program like parent time.
    – quarague
    Jun 29, 2023 at 7:35
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Writing this from a German/ Dutch perspective because what is considered common or easy seems to differ from the current answers so far.

I'm assuming you already have flexible work hours so you can also accumulate overtime and spend it on shorter work days. Presumably there also exists some policy allowing you to trade overtime for additional days off. If B is a big company they will have an official policy on this for all workers in your general field and you should learn what it is before the actual salary negotiation.

You can ask to adjust your weekly worked hours (and adjust the salary accordingly) and in general this is much easier to negotiate than increases in salary. This may be combined with reducing to 4 work days a week or you could just keep 5 days and work less hours each day. With the flexibility of work times this can lead to more days off as well. It is not uncommon for companies to just grant you what you want if there is no good objective reason not to. You should ask around in company B if this kind of thing is common and easy to get.

If the adjustments of work time in company B are easy and flexible, I would just focus on the salary negotiation when you make the switch to B. That is the point where you have leverage in the negotiation and salary is where you need the leverage to achieve something. The reduction in work time can then be made independently, possibly a few months later.

A work contract that specifies a different higher number of annual paid leave than the company standard is something unusual that I know no cases of.

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