Convince Your Boss to Let You Go to College

How to ask your boss to go back to school part-time

You’ve made the decision to go back to school to advance your career. You’ve found a great college and a way to fund your education. But you have one more major hurdle to clear: convincing your boss to allow you to pursue additional education. Staring such a delicate conversation is difficult, so it pays to be prepared.

Let’s be clear about what you’re really asking for: You’re not asking permission to go back to school part-time. You’re really asking permission to work part-time. Selling the benefits of your advanced education to your employer is only part of the conversation.

So, before you even begin to write a proposal or schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss changing your job to part-time, it’s important to do an assessment of your current position, research HR policies, understand your corporate culture, and identify office politics that may get in the way.

Do your research

Knowing your company culture, and the corporate policies, will go a long way in helping you position your request. Talk to Human Resources and find out what the current HR policies allow. Has anyone else in the company done anything similar? What does the company consider part-time? What types of arrangements are available? Could you work 10-hour days? Could you job-share? What options are available for flex time? Does your job allow you to work from home or be on call nights and weekends? These are all questions you’ll want to have the answers to before your make your pitch.

Also research relevant statistics that make the case for what you propose. For example, if you want to work three 10-hour days, you may want to mention research that shows employees who work longer hours but fewer days per week are more productive. Or, if you propose job-sharing, you’ll want to be prepared with statistics and case studies that show the benefits to the employer.

Assess your current role

List the functions of your current position. Write out everything you do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Of those duties, which could be job-shared, delegated, or eliminated? What tasks could be re-assigned to another department–or be done by a lower-paid employee on your days off or all of the time?

Assess your value to the organization

If you are considered a valuable employee and have proven you are a hard worker and get results, you’re more likely to get a positive response to your request to go part-time. In assessing your value to the organization, ask yourself some questions about your current job situation. How does your manager rate your job performance? Does he or she think you are average, above average, or outstanding? In your last performance review, what skill gaps did your boss identify? How will the classes you plan to take help close those gaps? What awards or accolades have you received? How have you helped the company save money, make money, improve efficiencies, or become more effective? The answers to all of these questions help establish your overall value to the organization. You’ll want to reference these in your proposal.

Redefine your role

Write out exactly how you visualize your new role. Will you job-share? Telecommute? Do you want to work fewer hours every day, or fewer days per week? How accessible are you willing to be on your days/time away from the office? Will you be willing to take calls and respond to emails? Who will do your work when you’re not there? How will you provide for coverage on your days or times off? How much extra will this cost the company? Or, is there some way you could work part-time and rearrange your work flow so that you could actually save the company money? These are all questions your boss is likely to ask.

List concerns your boss may have with your new schedule.

Beyond who will do the work when you’re not there and how much your new schedule will cost the company in money, productivity, or efficiency, your boss may have concerns about how others in the organization will react. Will your absence result in more work for other employees? Will customers be affected? If so, how? Will other employees resent you – and your boss—if you are given a part-time schedule? Will this open the proverbial can of worms in the department? To answer those questions, you must have a thorough understanding of your corporate culture and the office politics involved.

Write a business plan

Now that you have reviewed HR policies, identified corporate politics that may come into play, and clearly defined your new role, it’s time to create a formal proposal. You may or may not include all of your research in your proposal. But by doing so much research before you sit down to write a proposal, you will have a clearer idea of what you want and how the company can benefit. This knowledge will help you when you sit down to talk face-to-face with your boss.

Here are six components to include in your business plan:

1. Summary: In one or two brief paragraphs, give a general overview of the exact new position you are proposing, and how this change –as well as your advanced education–will be good for the company. The key here is to keep this section brief. You’ll go into more detail in the subsequent sections.

2. Proposed / Redefined Job Structure: This is where you get into specifics such as number of hours, how and when you will work, and who will cover your duties when you’re not there.

3. Objectives: This is where you state the reasons for the proposed change in your work schedule. It’s crucial in this section to clearly state that you enjoy your current role and have no intention of leaving the company. Your intention is to advance your skillset to add value to the organization after you receive your new degree.

4. Keys to Success: Focus on the benefits to the company of changing your work schedule. Some typical keys to success include: Maintain productivity, continue to meet critical project deadlines, and maximize efficiencies. The section on efficiency improvements is where you can discuss job sharing, delegating work to lower-paid employees, and eliminating some of your tasks.

5. Business Case: In this section, include statistics (such as employees who work ten hour days but fewer days per week are more productive), how a similar work arrangement has worked in your company, and company policies that support your proposed arrangement. You’ll also want to include proof of your value to the organization in this section, as well as the added value you will bring with your new advanced degree. When discussing your education, be sure to identify exactly how your new classes directly relate to your current position or role.

6. Next Steps/Action Requested: Close your business plan by requesting a face-to-face meeting within two weeks. This will give your boss time to digest your proposal, but also give you a deadline to make a decision.

With a little research, a lot of pre-planning, and a focus on how going back to school part-time will help your employer, there’s a good chance your boss will give you the green light to get that advanced degree.

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