When you feel like the demands of your home and job may just squeeze the life out of you, it may be time to ask for a flexible work arrangement from your employer. They can take many forms: a scaled-down workweek, compressed hours, working remotely, working nontraditional hours, or sharing a job with a co-worker. Knowing how to ask for one or, more critically, when to ask, takes courage and good judgment. That is just half the battle. Some managers resist, thinking that the only way to get the most out of employees is face time, all the time. The key to success is to develop a plan that is a demonstrable win-win for your employer and you.
Consider your employer. If you are interviewing and looking for an employer that permits flexible arrangements, do some research. You can check the employer’s Career section of its website or connect with current or former employees on LinkedIn or GlassDoor or do a google search for any articles about whether a particular employer promotes work/life balance or has won any awards for this recognition such as the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility. If there aren’t policies on the website about work-life balance, the company probably does not use flexible arrangements as a recruitment tool and it may not permit them. Subtle clues about the company’s culture may be evident during your interview; e.g., employees who mention they work one day a week from home. Do other employees openly display family photos, their children’s artwork, or talk about personal interests outside of work? You can be bold enough to ask about flexible time during the interview or ask indirectly about things like “connectivity during off hours.” Watch out for body language from your interviewer (and check out whether s/he seems really tired). Know that asking for flexible work arrangements before getting a firm offer could be a dealbreaker on either side.
Pick the right time. If you’re new to the job and didn’t bring up the issue during your interview, you may want to wait until a performance review or until you feel you have proven yourself. You should also ask current co-workers with flexible arrangements what worked best for them or get other intelligence about your manager from former employees. Many employers have written policies in their handbooks regarding how to request flexible work arrangements.
Clearly articulate your proposal. Think carefully about what kind of arrangement you want because you may only get one chance to ask for one. There are a host of online resources with proposal templates and discussion boards to help you think about your ideal arrangement. Once you have a clear vision, put it in writing to avoid any kind of misunderstanding with your co-workers or manager. Make sure to reserve time to discuss your proposal with your manager and possibly also your co-workers since they could be impacted by your proposed new arrangement. Your co-workers can explain how your proposal may or may not be practical, which in turn can help refine your objectives before making a presentation to your supervisor.
Anticipate and prepare for pushback. Your supervisor may resist your suggestion, especially if you are the first employee in your office or department to ask for a flexibile arrangement. You can overcome that knee-jerk reaction by doing some research ahead of time. Put yourself into your supervisor’s shoes and consider the legitimate business reasons to deny the request. Most employers will be motivated first and foremost by the impact on the bottom line. Find out how many sick or personal days off you or others could have avoided and how much turnover your company had due to employee burnout. Will your proposal allow for more efficient use of your office space or will a job share mean your employer gets two talented employees for the price of one? A workplace that allows flexible work arrangements can gain a competitive edge for talent, boost employee morale, and make employees more productive. Your points should all demonstrate how your proposal will boost your employer’s bottom line without sacrificing the quality of your work.
As working moms know all too well, life is all about tradeoffs. If your manager rejects the proposal, request a trial run or pare down your wish list. You can also raise it at your next annual or mid-year performance review and use your successes as a segue to asking for flexibility. Women tend to prefer preserving relationships to rocking the boat, but careful and thoughtful planning can help you get the flexible arrangements of your dreams.