In the September 16, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker tries to finesse a good job offer:

I just received a fantastic offer from a growing company that comes with a huge salary increase. I have a few days to decide while they conduct a background check and will enter negotiations once the hiring manager gets the all-clear from HR.

get-it-in-writingMy current job is close to home and incredibly flexible with my time (work from home, comp time, etc.). I would be giving much of that up for a big spike in salary and responsibility. I am not afraid of work and put in extra time when it is needed. In my industry it’s common to have big crunch-time spikes where you work 60 or 70 hours a week and then back to a normal load during slow times. I know what the job is, what is required, and I enjoy doing it. But the reality of my job makes it important to maintain work-life balance during the slow periods. I am hoping to negotiate some flexibility into my offer.

The company expects 9 hours “at the office” with a 1-hour break for lunch. I bring a sandwich to work and eat at my desk nearly every day. Even if I do run out to get something, I grab it and head back to my desk. I don’t need an hour for lunch and the extra 30 minutes with my toddler before bed time means a lot more to me. I know myself — I am going to end up working during “lunch” anyway. Reducing my scheduled lunch to 30 minutes so I can leave at 5 p.m. would make a big difference for me.

This is the only reservation I have about the job, and I believe I am prepared to take it either way. I am ready to give up a lot of flexibility because it is a great professional move, but I am hoping to keep just a little bit of my work-life balance in place. How can I negotiate flexibility without the perception that I just want to cut out early every day?

Nick’s Reply

Even if you win this concession, there’s a gotcha that’s even more important. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

You’ve already decided to take the job regardless of the 30-minute issue. So, please ask yourself, what’s really important to you? If it’s time with your child, then make that your priority. If you can live without that 30 minutes of family time, and you absolutely want this job and the extra money, then don’t negotiate. The worst position to be in when negotiating is when you have already decided to accept the other guy’s terms as they are. (In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, I discuss a powerful negotiating position to take if you already know what concessions you’re willing to make. See “Am I unwise to accept their first offer?”, pp. 8-9.)

But if you really want that time at home, then don’t feel guilty or hesitate to fight for it. When you discuss the offer, I suggest you explain that you want the job and are eager to start, but your acceptance hinges on one issue.

How to Say It

“I’d like to accept your offer and will deliver 9 hours at the office, and I will commit to X, Y and Z. But I’d like to discuss one of the terms. I’d like to swap 30 minutes of lunch time so I can leave work 30 minutes earlier to be with my child. When I need to work late during a crunch, I’ll do that. I’d like the written offer to reflect the 30-minute time trade. Otherwise, I’m ready to accept your offer as you have presented it.”

I’d explain it to them just as you did to me. There’s nothing inappropriate about your requirement. But you have to ask to make it happen. (By the way, I think you’re right – you will always eat at your desk anyway.)

You can add this: “I realize you’d need assurance or proof that I’m not abusing the 30 -minute trade-off. So, how could we ensure it’s handled properly? What I ask in return is that it be stated in my written offer.”

By letting the employer set some terms around this, you help them make the concession. But you should absolutely get it in writing if they agree. An oral commitment from the employer is not sufficient.

In fact, I’d like to emphasize this last point. It’s the gotcha I referred to earlier. You might win the concession, and lose it later. Any terms you negotiate in a job offer must be written into the agreement. If your boss changes, or if the person who made the promise disappears, this deal likely will come to a quick halt. Even under the best circumstances, people forget what they agreed to. (In the worst circumstances, an employer will just lie to you.) There’s nothing like being able to produce a piece of paper with a signature on it to ensure you’re getting the deal you signed. Don’t lose what you gained!

Please use your best judgment — not just my advice. Congratulations on the offer. It’s great you’re so pumped about it. Now make sure the terms are what you really want. (See That’s why it’s called compensation.)

Oral promises don’t mean much when the rest of the deal is in writing. Have you ever gotten screwed out of a promise after you started a job?

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  1. There are times when the person is expected to work 90 hrs a week? and they are worried about 30mins on a so-called slow time? When in this economy of the West on the table is “a fantastic offer from a growing company that comes with a huge salary increase.”

    It appears to me there are other issues at hand with this person that have not been disclosed.

  2. The short answer is “yes”. I was actually following your suggestions a few years ago. I felt stuck and was doing good work, but had reached that salary ceiling and was mostly not getting any raises. I was aware of new regulations for my industry that were going to need to be dealt with and no one was doing it. So, I went to my boss explained that I wanted a new job and then proceeded to outline why I thought this, why I was the man for the job and what I thought it should look like. It would be more money, I’d have people reporting to me and because of my move the department would get some much needed help. It was a win for the company, a win for the department and a win for me. He liked it and I got the OK from HR and the CEO. The only hitch in doing it right then was that another Management team member was about to leave and part of her responsibility crossed with what I wanted to do and they weren’t sure how they were going to handle that. So I, in good faith and withOUT anything in writing, started incorporating the new duties into my regular schedule. Long story short, the process dragged on and on and I confronted my boss about it and then got the good news/bad news message. The good news was that I could do what I wanted to do, but the bad news was that he had decided to spend “my” money on hiring another person to sit between him and the other side of my department – basically so he didn’t have to deal with them (my take on his explanation). I was livid and walked away before I said something that would get me into trouble. I ended up staying with the company and in the long run it’s been a relatively good idea, but I will never ever do that again and I’ve lost trust and respect for management, my boss, and HR on every level.

  3. I agree it is wise to get this in writing. People make promises; some keep them, some don’t. I also agree with @Nic–they are asking you to pull 60-70 hour weeks when needed and you agreed. If they squabble about you wanting to leave by 5pm, I would wonder about that. I hope this works out for you.

  4. Description of job sounds like it will always be a lot of hours. You are trading time with your family for more money. Go into this job knowing they expect blood from emoyees. I think you are foolish to think that short lunch will work out. Meetings scheduled late afternoon will blow this plan. No one else leaves early so they won’t respect your short lunch plan. Other jealous employees will call you a slacker for leaving early.

  5. I agree with Kathy.

    Your written agreement means nothing. They can terminate you for any reason. They don’t even have to give a reason. So how are you going to enforce this agreement?


  6. Absolutely get EVERYTHING in writing. I trusted a hiring manager for a $3000 salary increase that he verbally committed to after a probationary period. When the period was over, employees had taken a 5% salary cut. 3 years later, the company finally returned to giving pay raises. I brought up in my annual review what the Ops Manager (who had since been fired) had told me at my interview and they said they would honor it if it were in the offer letter. Of course, it wasn’t and I’d been so happy to land this job that I didn’t realize the $3k was not in the letter.

  7. Why give up time with your family and felixibility for a job like this? Companies that regularly expect long work weeks are either understaffed, highly inefficient or both. Setting a rigid number of hours to work and have lunch doesn’t show that they value your expertise. They are looking at you as a commodity. They will be happy to burn you out.

    If you are ok with the above, take the job. You shouldn’t discount yourself or time away from work. In the long run, you would probably be better off professionally and personally by taking some of Nick’s advice and networking your way to a fantastic job.

  8. Just my two cents: Once you work the what ever number of hours that are mandatory, what happens when the work you are doing requires more work to get it all done? This sounds to be about money and I completely understand that. If you are not being paid hourly (I assume you are not)what makes you think this new position is ONLY nine hours a day? That is the minimum. Does the agreement state no work over nine hours??? You have to have “your butt in the chair” for nine hours. The fact that this is a requirement means there is absolutely no wiggle room with ever working from home and you better believe if you cannot be there 9 hours, your reasons better be acceptable to them. Right now you have what sounds like a dream job but of course you need more money. ARE YOU SIGNING A CONTRACT for a certain length of time? I would never take this job unless I had a contract for time. I was a single and it is SO HARD. There is NOTHING more valuable then flexible time. And nine hours a day MANDATORY means 12 hours a day at any given moment. I would never take the job you describe when you have one you like which is flexible and you are getting by and you want that time wit your child. Time you will never ever get back. Cat

  9. “The company expects 9 hours ‘at the office’ with a 1-hour break for lunch.”

    This sounds like a “face time” type of company. Or to quote Seth Godin, “a factory” mindset in a digital age. Companies like these assume that everyone does exactly the same thing for nine hours at their desks. This job candidate sees work differently and is not a good fit despite the financial incentives.

    I agree with other posters that this situation should be avoided. The candidate would be going from a work at home scenario to a Swiss time clock. It likely would only produce frustration.

  10. It sounds like FlexTime* to me.

    * FlexTime = You can work whatever hours you want as long as you’re at your desk Monday through Friday from 8:00AM until 6:00 PM.

  11. I do not disagree with most of the comments but there are companies that require the hour lunch as it is better for the employee to take the time off so as to not burn out.

  12. @Nic: The reader said the job sometimes requires 60-70 hours per week, not 90. I don’t know what industry this person works in, but in some tech companies, such crunch periods are not uncommon. It’s really up to the employee to decide to live this way. As for the details, I published the entire question/story with only very minor editing for readability. I know what you know.

    @Jon Yiesla: I’m sensitive to this issue because it happened to me once, too. I agreed to take on loads of responsibility, with the understanding that I’d be paid accordingly. This turned into months of “negotiations” every Friday afternoon. When I finally got it through my thick head what was going on (I liked the people, but they were counting dollars, not profits), I quit. Never looked back.

    This “not in writing” problem happens every day, all the time, to more people than you’d expect. Employees feel uncomfortable talking about money, so they trust their employer. Big mistake. Even if the employer is honest, putting it in writing and in detail makes for a better, healthier relationship. I follow this rule today with all my contracts. Better to hash it out up front, put it in writing, than to suffer misunderstandings later.

  13. @Marc and others: I understand the warnings you offer. But there are companies and employees who do well with such deals. In Silicon Valley, such hours are not unusual, and neither are exorbitant salaries. People like the writer in this Q&A walk into these deals with eyes open. I published this story because the reader is so candid, so aware of the trade-offs. Loving your family and wanting to make lots of money may seem antithetical, but it’s a personal choice. I admire that this person is trying to get a concession that helps family life in a small way. It seems clear to me that the objective is to have a bit of leeway some of the time without arguments. As Kathy and Diana point out, this may be very difficult to enforce — but that’s up to the reader. I think it’s a great negotiating example.

  14. @ Steve Amoia: I’m a fan of Seth Godin’s, but I think there are some legitimate reasons for a company to ensure face time. I see nothing unsophisticated about the reader’s position. This is a matter to be negotiated. But others have raised good points — I hope the reader is reading between the lines. Judging from some of the side comments in the question, it seems the reader is very familiar with the expectations in the industry. My main interest here is, how does the reader get what the reader wants?

  15. @Nick I stand corrected on the hours. You are correct they had mention the potential for 60-70hrs.

  16. Try to think in the long term. When you’re older and you kid(s) have grown up, are you going to say, “Gee, I’m glad I spent so much time at the office away from my family”? You’ll most likely find more joy in simplifying your life and being with your family than giving your blood to a cold, uncaring company that is only interested in what you’ve done for them lately.

  17. I find many of these comments sexist. A long work week with ample face time and diminished family time are deal-breakers for many, but some people thrive on work and feel highly rewarded by earning a generous salary. It is that individual’s decision alone. Would everyone automatically chime in with “think of the kids” comments if the writer was male? I think not.

  18. @EEDR: Good points, but how do you (or anyone) know the writer isn’t male? I intentionally omitted gender pronouns because gender is not relevant.

  19. I thought it was a male. Shame on me.

  20. @Mark: I think you banged it out of the ball park with “Gee, I’m glad I spent so much time at the office away from my family”.

    My dad was one of those. 8-5 at the office (state job), then the string of evening jobs, culminating with the many years at the department store. Except for Monday night, which was church council. Wednesday or Thursday might have been Boy Scouts, at the council level. Weekends were the department store, except Sunday morning which was always church. The early service.

    So as I got out of the Corps, and entered that time of life when you “settle your differences with your father”, I found it nearly impossible. I didn’t know the man from Adam.

    My nephew spent some years living with him in his retirement, and remembers a protective, nurturing fellow. I wouldn’t recognize that man if I tripped over him.

  21. @Nick Corcodilos

    Nick, I mentioned the “factory vs. face time mindset” due to my own experience at a software firm. We had a few off-site contractors and some employees felt the latter had special privileges. Such as, “Why can’t we work remotely?”

    The ironic thing about this situation was the office manager was an old-school face time advocate but was flexible enough to allow the remote situations which greatly benefited the entire company.

  22. @Mark: I expect to be in touch with the writer of today’s question, to learn the outcome. I will also ask permission to share the writer’s sex. Even though it should not matter, Ask The Headhunter is about real, live people. It occurs to me that it does matter in its own way. We can learn something from details. Stay tuned, but no promises. It’s up to the writer.

  23. I do not know if the writer is female of male but I do know as a FEMALE MOTHER, that if you want anything flexible and some guarantee you will see your toddler when she/he is awake then do not take this job. (unless the toddler is allowed to stay up late in order to see you. But then you will not see toddler in the morning b/c it is sleeping in). Cat

  24. Years ago I negotiated a salary (exempt position), we were $3K apart in salary. My boss said he would give me the extra $3K after 3 months at the company -the probation period, in LA called the introductory period. I had it written into my offer but guess what — they tried to back out of it even though it was in writing and they were 100% satisfied with my performance. I did get it after 3 months and stayed for 3 years without another pay increase although I received yearly bonuses. It really was reflective of how they were as an organization, I should have seen that during the negotiations. Every negotiation with them was very exhausting and silly for even the smallest things. Which kept the revolving door of hiring going.

  25. This might not be relevant to this particular OP (assuming he/she makes a good salary), but perhaps other salaried workers can take solace that in the near future Obama-directed changes to the overtime pay exemption threshold under the Fair Labor Standards Act might result in more pay for some or additional help being hired.

    Jared Bernstein notes that current threshold of just over $23K might be changed upwards, closer to $50K.

    Alternatively, employers faced with paying ‘time and a half’ to newly overtime eligible employees might just hire some more help. That might help out someone who might want to (gasp) have a life outside of work.

    By the way, I heard a great term that I think is supposed to describe a well-paid but overworked work environment – “velvet sweatshop”.
    Am I using the term correctly here?

  26. It is good to be reminded to get the terms of employment in writing. But there is still the ethical issue of whether the employer will honor them. As noted, the person who hired you gets promoted, gets fired, gets another job and quits. Or there’s restructuring and new management comes in and they don’t honor the old agreements. Getting it in writing means you have a stronger legal leg on which to stand, but a company that isn’t ethical won’t care. You can always sue them in court in order to enforce the contract, but think about the workplace environment after that. Will they be looking to get rid of you? Will you be considered for raises and promotions? Will people be willing to work with you? Or will they sabotage you at every turn? Sometimes it best to bail (and if they treat you like this even with a written agreement, what is to stop them from treating you poorly).

    A few couple of years after my brother got his degree, he finally found a job he thought he could do and that paid pretty well (well for the field, especially for someone starting out) with benefits. It took some string pulling to get them to look at his résumé (my dad knew someone who was very friendly with a local politician, so the local politician pulled the strings for the son of a friend’s friend), interviewed for it, and got the job. He had been out of work for nearly a year since the last employer first downsized, then closed up entirely, and my brother was having a hard time finding work. He was so thrilled to have a job, and one with which he could support himself. He moved, and when he showed up for his first day of work, he learned that the job had been split into two, that there was another person hired as well as him, and that he would be earning half the salary he had been promised. He couldn’t live on $25,000 per year in Walpole MA area, didn’t know anyone else out there (no new girlfriends yet who could move in with him to split the rent and other expenses), so he started looking for another job. He had to get help from our folks, but he did find another job and only stayed at that one for 6 months. I think the offer was in writing, but I’m not sure–it has probably been at least 20 years if not longer since that job, so I’ll have to ask him if he got the terms of employment in writing or not. If he had known that he wouldn’t be making the salary posted and discussed and offered to him, he often said he would never have taken that job.

    At my current job, one of my colleagues (also part time like me) applied for a full time job at another college. She interviewed several times, and last month they offered her the job. She accepted, gave her notice (our boss told her not to worry about notice–she could leave without working another 2 weeks if they wanted her to start sooner)….and then a few days later the new employer notified her that she can’t start when she planned because they’re not sure they’ll have the funding for the job. The job she got was a genuine, bone fide job, one that had been filled by an actual human being for years and not one that is being newly created. The funding was there for the former employee, but something happened to it between the time the former employee left/retired and the time my colleague was interviewed for the vacancy and offered the job. Her last week was supposed to be the last week of August, with her starting her new job after Labor Day, just in time for the start of the new semester. We are now into week three of the fall semester, and she’s still here, with the new job still in limbo. She hasn’t heard anything from them since August. She had called a few times, and been brushed off once, then ignored. I’m thinking that job is toast. In the meantime, because she had the offer and accepted it, she refused to teach her research class and has refused to work nights and refused to open up in the morning. She’s calling her hours and hoping that she’ll hear from the other college re the job she was offered soon. In one sense, I don’t blame her–she “checked out” the instant they offered her the job. On the other hand, that funding may be already being used elsewhere for someone else or for something else. The new job is at a local private college, and several of my other colleagues said that this particular college is famous for that kind of behavior. There’s a job vacancy because someone got promoted/left for another job/retired/got fired, so there’s no need to craft the job, figure out what needs to be done, secure funding for it, get approval to hire from the upper level muckety-mucks outside the dept. They post the job, hold interviews, make offers, then suddenly the funding vanishes because someone else on campus decided to lobby for it and convinced a higher-ranked muckety-muck that he needed it more than the vacancy in the other dept. (of which he has no knowledge) needed filling. So they’re stringing her along, and because she’s no longer invested in her current part time job, she’s created a scheduling nightmare (though in all honesty the dean could put a quick end to it and insist that she either work the hours and schedule for which she was hired, including teaching her 7 week long class, or she’s done and the dean will find someone who is willing to work those hours). This holding pattern of not knowing for certain despite a job offer and an acceptance (I haven’t seen her to ask her if the job offer was in writing) could last another day, another week, the rest of the semester, or forever. For all any of us know, the funding for that job could have gone to the football coach or to the head of another dept. whose nephew needed a job.

    The honest and ethical thing for this private college to do would be to update her, or to simply say–the funding is no longer there, so we’re sorry, but that means you no longer have a job with us. If the funding should return and if we should get it, we encourage you to apply again.

    I know that we discussed this in a q & a earlier this year (re employers who string applicants along, but I think this is even worse, because they already made her an offer and she accepted it), but nothing is even certain. Even if there is a written agreement, if a muckety-muck above the dept. head or dean who hired her nixes it, then that’s it. The muckety-muck’s decision holds.

    RE: the letter writer in this week’s q & a, I think Nick is correct to get the terms of employment in writing. Like witnesses at a trial, people forget, move away, have different memories of what was agreed upon, or there’s new management and they won’t honor what the previous management offered. But even with a written agreement, given the description of the hours, I have my doubts whether the letter writer would be able to leave early. I know that for many industries, there are crunch times when everyone works longer hours, comes in on weekends, don’t take breaks, etc. The problem is whether crunch or busy times are not limited to certain times of the year but become normal, so your weekly schedule is always more than what you’d prefer to work.

    The letter writer has a toddler; if s/he is a single parent and needs the money in order to provide for the child, that’s one thing. Then you take the job and suck it up until you find something better, but understand that you’re giving up time that you will never get back with your toddler. If you’re at a job you like now that offers good work-life balance, then I’d really think twice about this offer, unless you can get the terms favorable to you (eat at your desk while you work through lunch) so you can leave earlier in order to be home so you can spend time with your toddler. Just because they agree to it or even put it in writing doesn’t mean they’ll honor it, and social pressure could nix it even if your boss is fine with it. You might find that others will start sniping at you for “leaving early”, that they may not help you, won’t work with you, you won’t be able to rely upon them. If the culture of the place is to work crazy hours most of the time, then you have to do some soul-searching. The increase in salary in wonderful, but if you’re making it on your current salary AND you have good work-life balance, then you have think about what is more important to you.

    Fifteen years ago, I worked in the insurance industry, and we had a busy time of about 4 months per year, and it really picked up in March and April (tax season). But after May 1st, things slowed down to our usual pace, which was busy but not insanely busy. And during our crunch time, those depts. that needed to work longer hours got compensated for it (in pay), while those who were not as busy pitched in to help those who were swamped. We also hired more temps, so with people pitching in where needed and with the extra temporary help, it meant that the majority of us didn’t have to log more hours. Those who did got a couple few extra hours, but nothing like the 20 extra hours mentioned by the letter writer. Additionally, our management knew how crazed tax season was, so they required us to take more breaks, go for a walk, they hired masseuses to come in and give employees a massage. They bought us food and provided breakfasts and lunch treats in addition to coffee break munchies and snacks. Management was always around, asking if we were getting our work done and if not, we had help immediately. I didn’t mind our busy time because it was handled so well. I remember my boss said that sometimes a dept. or a few people had to put in more hours, but she considered it bad management if it happened too often and if it went on for too long. It meant that work was piling up somewhere, that we were understaffed or the workflow/organization had broken down, and that it was management’s job to fix it, not to burn out employees. It reflected badly on management too, if so many people had to work more hours and work wasn’t getting done. But, insurance companies have a lot money (or at least they did then), so if more help was needed, you got it. Management was observant, so you didn’t have to fight for it if you needed it. Not every company operates that way, so if 60 hour weeks are the norm, something is wrong.

    The other thing is, if you’re going to work 60 hour weeks, you will burn out. I did that at my last job, and I burned out. No one cared that I was swamped, that the workload had increased (technology doesn’t always make work easier), and even asking to have tasks removed for the ones added did no good. I’m single and it was hard for me to keep up those kinds of hours. I used to dread the holiday weekends because I had to cram 5 days worth of work into 4 days. I couldn’t take vacation time, even though I was accruing it. The hours meant I had no time for me, and it was hard to keep up with things I needed to do in my personal life and time. I remember going home and not having any condiments….it was admission season and I was putting in more than 60 hours per week because applicants tend to wait until the last minute to apply, and then I only had two weeks to review the files and make decisions. Many of the files were incomplete, so I had to notify applicants what was missing, then wait for the documents to arrive, to make sure my recommendations got the GPD, and there was always such a rush, especially for fall admissions. And that was just one task–I had scheduling, advising, clearing students for graduation, general inquiries, and if something blew up, then it was a scramble to fix it or find out who could fix it. I remember how exhausted I was, and work-life balance was a only a dream. And I didn’t have a child, so I don’t know how you’ll do it unless you have a stay at home spouse or family to help you, and even so, you’re still missing out on time with your child.