New Job? Don't Just Negotiate Salary, Negotiate Expectations as Well

You are offered the job you've always wanted. At last--recognition for all your hard work and achievement. Surely, your spouse and children will be just as happy as you are. Or will they?

You are offered the job you've always wanted. At last - recognition for all your hard work and achievement. Surely, your spouse and children will be just as happy as you are. Or will they? Does the new job mean more travel? Fewer dinners with the family? Even more time glued to the smartphone or computer? Before you assume that everyone will see the new job as checking all those proverbial boxes (higher pay, better visibility for future promotions, coveted perks), think again.

The time to discuss such changes is before the change occurs. Negotiating expectations with family can reduce the conflicts, resentment, and stress that your "good news" may bring. Change challenges the status quo, and even if the new situation is objectively better, most prefer sticking with the known. Where we are now is safer than where we haven't been. Moreover, because how we spend our time reflects our values, changes in how we spend our time--even when we don't have a choice (i.e., "my new boss needs me tonight")--signal a change in values. On the surface, this could be devastating to one's spouse or partner.

Imagine Peter accepts the new position. Clearly, the additional time required in this new job (presumably greater responsibility and a need to "get up to speed") has to come from somewhere. Does Peter sacrifice his periodic weekend vacations with his wife, Natalie? Does he reduce the time he spends in the gym? Does he abandon his buddies and their occasional after work happy hours? Does he function on less sleep (with a likely concomitant rise in irritability)? Does he reduce the time he spends helping to keep their home clean and things in good working order? Any of these changes represents a new way of operating, a trade-off among competing choices, and consequences (not all positive) for him and his wife. Unaddressed, the changes may alter Peter's wife's feelings about her nights alone, her need to pick up additional chores, and the lack of quality time between them. And Peter will wonder why his wife complains when he is the one working more hours and bringing more money into the household. The cycle then escalates.

How do you avoid this situation? First, it's best not to wait until the new job begins to discuss with your spouse the potential impact of the new job. To manage expectations, Peter should start the conversation early, perhaps once he receives the offer. Better yet, the conversations should begin when he starts thinking about changing jobs. Discussing how the change might affect the parties individually and collectively will prepare them for what will change, how, and for how long. Communicating and negotiating expectations early and often can help prevent conflict and strife in the relationship.

The conversation might sound something like this:

PETER: Honey, I just got the invitation to interview for that job I told you I applied for. But I'm concerned about the additional time the new job will take from me and how that will affect us.

NATALIE: What do you mean?

PETER: Well, obviously, some evenings I'd be working late, and we won't be able to go out to dinner, nor will I be able to eat with you at home.

NATALIE: I'm OK with that, as long as it's not every night.

PETER: There may also be some Saturdays when I need to work.

NATALIE: Hmmm . . . Saturdays, too? I have a feeling I am going to be alone a lot, and I don't like it.

PETER: I don't like it either. I love you and want to be with you. But I also think it won't always be this way. We'll have some tough periods, but we'll also make sure to continue our annual all-inclusive vacation. That's really important to me.

NATALIE: I imagine you won't be able to keep up with the grocery shopping and vacuuming?

PETER: I hadn't thought about that. Let's look at this more carefully. It's not fair that you do more housework and I do less. How about you ask your friends for a recommendation for a housecleaner? Maybe we can afford to do this twice a month.

NATALIE: Thanks for understanding, sweetie. Seems the investment in a housecleaner might be worth it. I don't want to be angry at you for not doing your share, but I don't want to do it either.

Maybe this conversation sounds too civil to be realistic. Think about it this way. When you know what to expect - even if it is bad news - it is easier to handle than when things happen without warning. And when you invite others to join you in the change process - co-designing the new modus operandi - they become part of and committed to the change, as opposed to victimized by it.

The same advice holds true for you as well. Commit to regularly reflecting on your choices. Greater pay and visibility typically come at a price. In the twilight years, no one is heard saying "I wish I would have worked more." The more common realization is the wish to have spent more time with loved ones. Periodically ask yourself what's going well and not so well--professionally and personally. Some top leaders do this an hour or two per week. If change is needed, consider negotiating expectations with your employer. A study I did showed that educated professionals would work less (e.g., a 20% reduction in work hours and pay) if it meant more time with loved ones or self ( In this period of cost-cutting, it would be worth asking the question; some employers might even welcome it.

Remember that managing expectations is not a one-time conversation. As things change, be the first to recognize the changes and initiate the conversation. Don't assume that others will willingly adapt without complaint or worse, with silent resentment. Unresolved conflicts can permanently damage relationships. Reduce the likelihood of conflict by managing expectations early and often. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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