How To Ask For What You Want At Work… And Get It

 

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” -My Dad

Sometimes, it’s just that simple. If you have a desire, you need to make it known. Usually, the worst response you can get is “no,” and you’re right where you were if you hadn’t asked at all.

You might be surprised when the answer isn’t “no,” but instead it’s a “maybe” or even a “yes.” As my friend Dr. Dawn Baker tells us in today’s guest post, there are tactics that can help you get the answer you want.

Like me, she is an anesthesiologist, and like me, she asked for a part-time position and got it. That’s not all she got.

Dr. Baker is one of three members of the Stealth Wealth Family, and she also blogs and life in medicine at Practice Balance. How does she achieve a healthy balance? Read on!

 

How To Ask For What You Want At Work… And Get It

 

I was sitting in the lounge eating lunch one day, and a fellow anesthesiologist approached me with a skeptical expression.

“So… I heard that you’re going to take 9 months off. HOW did you get that?”

Between bites of his sandwich, another colleague chimed in from across the table, “She’s a badass.”

Laughing, I simply said, “I asked for it.”

 

You could say that my motivations for asking were borne out of a desire to live, and to live more intentionally. When I experienced a health scare during my residency training, which I initially assumed was just due to stress but turned out to be a cancer, I knew I wanted my work in medicine to be streamlined and simple; I wanted nothing to do with administrative or research roles and only wanted to focus on clinical anesthesia.

I asked potential employers for part time or no call positions. Reactions were mixed, and although there were ultimately tradeoffs in the scope of my practice (like not getting to do certain specialized cases), I landed such a position.

 

Years after my transition from resident to attending, I underwent a long battle with infertility. And when that battle finally ended happily with a baby, I felt an overwhelming need to spend as much time with her as possible.

Around the same time, we learned about the financial independence movement and realized that we were indeed already financially independent.

I didn’t need more money, so my motivations became all about optimizing happiness for me and my family. About 6 months after my maternity leave, I decreased my clinical commitment to 0.5 FTE.

 

Father and Daughter Walk

my “why”

 

Seeking Out a Sabbatical

 

The past three years have provided a great balance of time with my daughter and time with my patients. I may already be in the OR before her daycare even opens, but it’s only 2 days per week and I’m almost always able to pick her up myself at the end of the day.

We don’t need multiple nannies or outsourcing of tasks to simply stay afloat on the river of day to day life. I’m able to be present with my husband and even spend a little time on myself (blogging or exercising or just reading things like Physician on Fire!).

But at the same time, my practice group has seen an increase in the complexity of scheduling its physicians at a growing number of sites, along with more restrictions on the timing of vacations.

Amidst all the constraints, we’ve longed for the simplicity of slow travel like we used to do. Like our old adventures of rock climbing around the globe… only with a toddler in tow. So here I am, currently on that 9-month leave of absence to travel with my family before said toddler reaches kindergarten age.

Given all the above, you could also say that I’ve asked for a concession or two at work – no apologies and no regrets. Your time and your money are inextricably linked. While you can always make more money, but you cannot get back your time.

Are you feeling overwhelmed, flirting with burnout, or just simply desiring to simplify your clinical duties? Would your mind and body benefit from a mini-sabbatical?

Seeking out a change in your work situation might be just what you need to sustain your happiness in a job that’s pulling you in in many directions and stretching you thin. Many would argue it will make you a better doctor as well. Read on for my tips on getting what you want regarding your time at work, based on my own experience.

 

Embrace Being Uncomfortable

 

Admittedly, I’m uncomfortable when I either know or perceive that others don’t like me. Many of us feel this way; even PoF said as much in a recent interview.

Having your finances in order can help to give you some confidence in this realm, but even the most financially independent among us can be nervous in the face of dissenters. In order to make big changes and reap big benefits, you have to take the chance that someone isn’t going to approve.

Many people have said to me, “I’d love to do what you’re doing, but I could never take that much time off”.

My response is always the same: have you thought about asking? The worst thing that can happen is that “they” (whoever they are – your boss, your spouse, other loved ones) say no. You’re not going to get fired – from your work or from your family – by asking for what you want; they need you more than you think.

 

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Know Your Value

 

It reportedly takes somewhere around a quarter of a million dollars to hire and onboard a hospital-based physician in a new medical system. Whether you desire to decrease your time at work, take more vacation, or take an extended leave, it’s most advantageous for your employer to continue their relationship with you.

In addition, you just might be one of those physicians practicing in a specialty or geographical area of great shortage. The community you serve can’t afford to lose you completely… but if you end up happier at work due to your proposed schedule change, everyone (including patients) benefits.

 

Time Your Ask

 

It may sound cliché, but timing really is everything. In my experience observing reactions to my own proposals and those of other colleagues (both successful and unsuccessful), timing is the most important factor.

My department happened to be particularly short-staffed right when I realized I wanted to decrease my number of practice days per week, so I waited a while to approach them about dropping my commitment. At the same time, I made sure to volunteer for some of the extra shifts our scheduler was pleading the group to fill.

When the new hires came along in the summer, that’s when I pounced on the opportunity to make my proposal.

If you’re really feeling unsure about asking the head of your group, consider putting out a feeler first by talking to a trusted but more senior colleague. I did this when I asked for my recent leave; at my annual review with my trusted mentor, I mentioned what I wanted to do and asked him what he thought before moving up the ranks.

 

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Offer Them Something In Return

 

Is there a way that you can soften the impact of your proposed change in work duties?

Maybe you can offer to rearrange the upcoming call schedule yourself. Maybe you can preemptively identify a colleague who would generously take over a specific duty for you.

Crispy Doc wrote about reengineering his entire group’s shift schedule to result in a more egalitarian distribution of time off. In his persuasion, he emphasized how it would benefit others (not only him).

When I asked for my 9 month leave, I had little pushback from my department chair (largely because my timing was good). The one thing he did bring up in our meeting was the coverage of anesthesia services for a small, office-based location where I’m one of the principal team members.

Anticipating this concern, I offered to recruit 2-3 more people who would willing to practice there (and gave him the name of one colleague who I had already approached).

 

family of three in spain

In Chulilla, Spain

 

What To Do With Your Newfound Free Time

 

If your ask is met with success, what next? You’ll have some space to figure out what you really want. Is it more connection with family? Pursuit of an avocation that’s just for you? Service in a nonmedical realm?

For my sabbatical, we’re starting things off this fall in the southwest with (ironically) more “work”; we’re doing some much-needed home improvements, the kinds of things you never seem to have time for, to our condo (formerly used only as a winter escape).

Then we’re headed out in our converted Sprinter Van RV to tour a few of the national parks nearby, parks that my husband and I visited as children growing up in the southwest but have yet to experience through our daughter’s eyes.

We’ll spend some time with grandparents and cousins. And we’re going on some longer adventures to international places we’ve never visited but have always wanted to see. Places like the Caribbean Islands and Costa Rica, which we once heavily researched for trips but gave up on due to the logistics of visiting them under the constraints of standard vacation windows.

As long as we can find an internet connection, my husband will fortunately be able to do his work remotely wherever we go.

As with any recommendations, results may vary. Depending on your specialty and practice environment, getting what you want could be slightly easier or much more difficult than what I’ve experienced. But I hope this inspires you to think of ways you can creatively and effectively move towards a work situation with more balance!

 

[PoF: We happen to be starting our big travel adventures at the same time as the good Dr. Baker and family. My “sabbatical” is likely to be more permanent in nature, but how cool would it be to free from work for the better part of a year?

Be sure to learn more from this balanced physician at Stealth Wealth Family and Practice Balance.]

 


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Have you ever been surprised you were granted something that you had the courage to ask for? What have you wanted to ask for, but have been afraid to inquire?

 

28 comments

  • NATHAN P MELTZER

    Good on ya, Dr. Baker! — Nathan Meltzer MD (alum OBGYN at U of U)

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  • So glad to see this post. You go Dawn! I have not blogged in a while but I am engineering my time at work too (as opposed to time off) and now focusing on the things that bring me joy (like teaching med students and my time with veterans at the Va). It’s pretty awesome. Also we bought a house less than 1 mile from work so I can keep walking. These small things are so important to do and make a world of difference. Next on the list is getting invited to speak internationally. It won’t be slow travel but it will still be travel!

    • EJ, I miss your posts but am happy to hear from you here! Love that you’re “engineering” your work and life to bring more happiness. Being able to walk to work sounds glorious, and best wishes on finding that perfect speaking opportunity!

  • I love your guide because your asks are so radical. I hope people that feel chained to their schedule pay attention to the strategic advice offered here. You are a bad ass.

  • Lynne

    “If you don’t ask, you won’t get.” So true.

    I recently was asked about coming back into the office to work permanently. Original agreement for my rehire was that I was 100% telecommute, and my hourly rate reflects that. Given that the drive is not many miles, but road construction makes the commute abysmal, and that we DID have an agreement as condition for my coming back, I politely declined and stated that it would be a deal breaker for me.

    Therefore, I am still 100% telecommute. Had I caved, I would have been miserable with the drive and hassle, not to mention the lousy office environment (open environment, lack of work space, lots of distractions). Being FI gives us so much greater ability to say what we want and stick to it. I also knew they needed me much more than I need them.

  • M

    You are such an inspiration to me, right down to the van life!

    Thank you for being brave enough to show a life you can create outside of the walls of our clinics and hospitals.

    I find much resistance when I talk to my colleagues about such things, and they think I’m crazy for going on all my adventures!

    Keep up the strong work!

    • Thanks, M. It’s sometimes difficult to talk to coworkers about this kind of thing, for sure. That’s where the social media community really shines, IMO. Glad you’re a part of it!

  • Awesome post Dawn! Your time off sounds amazing and well deserved. Thanks for all the tips. Happy travels 🙂

  • Congratulations on your success. This is the beauty of medicine, the ability to define “it” and then the power to make “it” happen. In my own life we had infertility as well but we adopted 2 abandoned babies from China. My wife had a private OT practice largely pediatric and through that, she realized she did not want to send our children into the public education system, so she retired from practice and we decided to home school our kids. Medicine gave me more flexibility to expand our income in a way that we could build the kind of life and education we wanted for our family. So rather than “flame off” medicine gave me a path where I could redouble and “flame on”. It became my challenge to make the rodeo happen. I created the environment where my family’s life could happen I was the group owner so that business aspect suited my skill set. It also was during a time when anesthesia paid far better than today. I simply used the tools available to me, and created new ones when necessary.

    We took 12 weeks a year off but not all at once. We typically limited to 2 or 3 week trips, so no 9 months in Spain but 3 weeks in Italy or South Asia totally doable even with 2 toddlers in tow, and as they grew, schooling was not a limit. We could do school anywhere we could get an internet dial tone, and so we did. I’m retired now and my kids are in college and grad school living their own lives. By living a right sized life, and engaging a rational plan, we came out with plenty of money and 2 children who are exactly the women I wished them to be, with plenty of rich experience along the way. I didn’t retire at 40 or 50 I retired at 65. I retired when it was time. I completed my career and turned my attention to other things of interest. I needed some time to Roth convert while making no income and 65 was ideal. 5 years to convert, plus Medicare coverage. Working was a blast and retirement is a blast.

    History can be accidental or intentional. What it will be is entirely dependent on how you manage the present. People are always quacking about FI in some future sense. Parsimoniously administered, the actual practice of medicine is the definition of financial independence from the day you walk out the residency’s door. It merely means you figure out how to run the show, instead of letting the show run you. Where does this go? My daughters choir has toured Italy, have sung in the Catacombs below St Peter’s and at mass with the Pope and played the Organ at mass, at St Patrick’s in NYC before they were 21. That to me is the ultimate expression of the awesome freedom of financial independence. It happens along the way not in some far off “future”. It happened on a particular day when the opportunity presented. There was no agenda, just organic growth in skill and expertise by living in the present and attending to detail in the present. Life is chock full of opportunity. Agenda is where opportunity goes to die.

    Dawn, You are bad-assed. your entire story is an inspiration. It provides contrast and counterpoint to the standard meme, which everybody forces upon their existence. You’re the proof. Nobody’s got you in a headlock.

    • Wow. Thanks for this comment. It’s great to hear another example of intelligent, intentional financial planning leading to a life lived on your own terms. Oh, and you had me at “home school”… we’ve been voraciously consuming content from the Alliance for Self-Directed Education and the like. We’ll be engaging in unconventional education like your family did as well. Thanks for YOUR inspiration!

  • Thanks for your great example. Doctors have way more power than we think, or than administrator will lead us believe. I’m adding this one to my Fawcett’s Favorites.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

    • Great to hear! And yes, I agree with you. It’s equally as difficult to get comfortable in a work structure and culture as it is to separate from them, and employers generally know this.

  • Dawn,

    I’ve always been drawn to your story, but it keeps gaining momentum and getting better with time. The dirtbag couple who lived a climber’s dream van life before it was a hashtag. The engineers relentlessly seeking efficiency (or to use Gasem’s more precise turn of phrase, parsimony).

    What an exemplary ask! You anticipated and executed your sabbatical with an eye to timing and had already begun addressing the staffing shortfall your time off might create, cutting off resentment at the pass.

    I love to watch you live your life ordering off the menu. Through your example you let us know that the boundaries of the possible are more elastic than we thought.

    Fondly,

    CD

  • I’ve been at the same job now for 11 years. Every 2-3 years I make a case why I am worth more. Sometimes I get a nice pay rise, other times I don’t. All I know for certain is that if I didn’t ask, my pay would be much lower today. One trick I use before asking is visualizing the conversation in my head over and over again. That way when it comes time to have the talk, it’s less stressful and feels natural. This translates into confidence which is always helpful. Great post and congratulations!

    • Visualization is a great technique to lessen the anxiety of these sometimes awkward negotiations. I also love that you start from a place of positivity, highlighting the skills or accomplishments that make you increasingly more valuable to your workplace.

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  • “You’re not going to get fired – from your work or from your family – by asking for what you want; they need you more than you think.”

    Actually, that’s really not true. I did *exactly* this at one of my jobs. I asked for a raise. They fired me a week later with no reason given and absolutely fantastic performance reviews (I was promoted twice in two years with only a minor salary increase).

    Be careful what you ask for.

    • I’m sorry to hear this happened to you. Obviously different groups are different depending on size and specialty. I think my situation is advantageous because I work in a large, diverse, academic group.

      I have a friend who similarly did not have a contract renewed due to one little difference of opinion – at a large but very homogeneous group that always has a ton of prospective applicants due to its desirable location and high reimbursement.

      I’d argue that if your former workplace was that rigid, maybe it wasn’t a good place to be anyway.

  • “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”

    That is by far the most relevant quote when it comes to investing and business as a whole.

    This article genuinely works! If you don’t believe me, just try it! It will certainly work!

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