Going through divorce, depression, teen issues? How to ask for what you need at work – beyond maternity leave

Gender strategist Joan Kuhl and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski discuss how to ask for time off or flexibility when you’re going through a major life hurdle.
Joan Kuhl, author of "Dig Your Heels In."
Joan Kuhl, author of "Dig Your Heels In."U.S. Soccer

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By Halley Bondy

Maternity leave is generally established in the workplace. But is it possible for women to get time off or flexibility if they’re going through a divorce? Or suffering from post-partum depression? Or having major issues with their teenagers?

Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski recently sat down with author and gender strategist Joan Kuhl to discuss how women can meet out-of-office needs, beyond maternity leave.

“All of these things are realities that women face that they think they never will,” said Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski.

Kuhl is the author of “Dig Your Heels In: Navigate Corporate BS and Build the Company You Deserve.” She said that women deserve time off or flexibility if they’re going through a difficult time, and that management should respect their needs.

“We do need to embrace and be supportive of the fact that we need additional resources for what’s happening at home,” Kuhl said. “Because the more refreshed and happy we are at home, the better and more productive we are at work.”

Kuhl said that some companies are stepping up. For example, the financial services corporation Deloitte offers transitional coaching for employees after maternity leave.

But sometimes, women have to ask managers for what they need.

“The workplace in some ways still isn’t ready for this conversation,” said Kuhl. “So going into this conversation, think about exactly what you need. Sometimes we’re ready to ask for something, but we don’t know what we need.”

Brzezinski suggested addressing managers honestly, but cautiously.

“I know CEO after CEO of really great companies that just want to know what you need,” Brzezinski said. “You don’t need to go in there bawling. But you need go into there with a strategy...Give them a little information, enough, not the whole thing, and you get what you need.”

Brzezinski and Kuhl both said that women should use their value for leverage during these tough talks. Bosses want to keep their top employees.

“If you start with knowing your value and knowing that they’re going to miss you if you’re not there and the business is going to be impacted, that should give you the confidence and the courage to have the conversation,” said Kuhl.

It’s important for women to lean on their network, according to Kuhl. Usually, someone else has been through the same thing.

“We need to talk to other women who have gone through it,” Kuhl said. “It would be ideal if you could go through your company to find a network of other women, parents, men and women, that have gone through a similar stage and ask them ‘what helped you get things together at home so you can be together at work?’”

Brzezinski said that if nothing is available to women in the office beyond maternity leave, it might be within their power to create change.

“It might be you who raises awareness and starts something in the company that really does help get flexibility for people who need different types of things to make it work,” Brzezinski said.