How to Ask for a Flexible Work Schedule

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Flexible work arrangements can be the key to balancing a career with parenthood, allowing moms and dads to better manage child care, school schedules and at-home responsibilities while maintaining their professional lives — whether it’s shifting the hours they spend in the office, working remote, or going from full-time to part-time work. Technology and changing demographics in the workplace are making these options a reality for many people. In fact, in 2015, Gallup’s annual Work and Education poll showed a nearly 30 percent increase in workers who occasionally telecommute.

But before you make a beeline to your boss’s office to ask for a flexible schedule, it’s important to understand that there can still be some resistance to these arrangements, and — just like with a pay raise — you need to be ready to make your case and negotiate. Here’s how to prep:

Familiarize yourself with company policies.
More and more, human resources departments are creating company-wide policies around flexible work arrangements. Here’s the catch: Even if your company has a policy in place, how it is implemented is often left to the discretion of individual managers. Regardless, knowing what’s on the books sets a precedent and provides a framework from which you can determine your request and manage your expectations for a flexible work arrangement. And remember: Companies may have separate policies for flex-time, reduced work schedules and telecommuting. Talk to your HR rep if you have questions.

Take a cue from other employees.
If you’re not the first employee to venture into the brave new world of flexible work, talk to your coworkers who have had their arrangements approved. How did they approach the subject with their supervisor? Did their manager have any initial concerns? What is the culture of flexible work at your company? Are employees with a four-day workweek still logging on to check email during their day off? Do telecommuters make themselves available at all hours in order to “prove” they are working? Understanding how these arrangements work in practice versus on paper is something you’ll want to take into consideration.

Figure out what you want.
Don’t ask your manager for “some flexibility” without defining what that means. Determining the best flexible work arrangement for you and your family might take some soul searching. What are the trouble spots in your day? Are you craving a more relaxed morning with the kids? Would removing your commute — even just a few times a month — give you the extra hours you need to better manage your home? Do you desperately need a day to run errands, do household chores, and maybe (just maybe) find some time for self-care? Do you need a short-term arrangement, such as more flexibility during the summer, or are you seeking a long-term solution for better work-life balance? Create your “best case scenario” work schedule based on your priorities.

Know where you stand.
Like it or not, at many companies, employees who are highly regarded will often be given more leeway to build flexibility into their schedules. The good news? If you are a valued employee, your manager probably wants to keep you happy, which means there’s a good chance they will listen to and strongly consider your request. That said, be careful not make assumptions about how your boss will react — simply be aware of your reputation and be ready make the case that more flexibility will support your strong work performance.

Unfortunately, if your work has been less than stellar, you’ll need to approach the flex schedule conversation differently. Perhaps you’re struggling at the office because of a particularly stressful situation at home. Frame flex-time as an opportunity to provide you with the leeway you need to ensure that when you’re on the clock, you’re productive and focused.

Approach your boss.
You’ve done your due diligence and it’s time to ask for a flexible work arrangement. Here’s how to have the conversation:

  • Schedule a meeting. Requesting to significantly alter your work schedule isn’t the same as asking to leave at 3 p.m. on Tuesday for a dentist appointment. Even if you and your supervisor have a friendly rapport, put a meeting on his or her calendar rather than dropping by for a casual chat.
  • Outline how you plan to manage your workload. Be prepared to discuss how you see your workload changing with your new schedule, if at all. If you plan to maintain your current workload, point out how a flexible work arrangement will make you more productive, i.e., providing you with time to focus without distractions while working at home one day a week. Or, if you are requesting a reduced work or part-time schedule, recommend solutions, such as passing off a project to a junior coworker who is looking for job growth opportunities.
  • Be ready to negotiate. Don’t be afraid to ask for a little more than you think your boss will be willing to give you. Suggest telecommuting twice a week knowing you’d be happy working from home one day a week. Another tactic? Offer a trial period to prove to your team that your 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule won’t disrupt the workflow. Finally, decide if you’d be willing to forgo a raise or take a smaller pay bump than expected to get your dream schedule? The answer doesn’t have to be yes, but many parents find flexible work arrangements significantly benefit their mental health and family life, and for some, the value of time is worth more than a pay increase.