Flexible work really matters to the millennials. A recent study conducted by PwC found that, after training and development, the thing millennials want the most from their jobs is flexible work arrangements. Flexible work outranked other perks, like cash bonuses, free healthcare, and more vacation time.
And it’s not just the millennials who like flexible work: Some estimates say that as much as 70 percent of workers would leave their jobs for more flexibility.
And yet, despite the fact that more and more workers want flexibility, many employers still harbor some unjustified prejudices toward workers who ask for flexible arrangements. This stigma is reflected in the findings of an EY study that found that 74 percent of workers want the ability to work flexibly without suffering damage to their careers.
Furthermore, one in six millennials say they have “suffered a negative consequence as a result of having a flexible work schedule.”
Typically speaking, the “negative consequences” of flexible work arrangements tend to manifest as a lack of career progression opportunities and/or a bad reputation in the eyes of leaders and managers. It follows, then, that asking a potential employer about flexible work arrangements during the interview process could hurt a job seeker’s chances of landing a job.
Working flexibly and maintaining career mobility is clearly an issue today, so here are a few tips for job seekers and the currently employed on how they can seek out flexible work opportunities with damaging their careers.
1. Focus on Companies That Actively Welcome Flexible Work
Applying to a company like Yahoo, which publicly declared a war on working from home not too long ago, and asking about telecommuting options would be foolish. It’s up to you to research the market. Find and target employers who actively encourage flexible work arrangements.
You can usually spot a flexible-work-friendly employer a mile off, as the company’s positive attitude toward flexibility will be prominently displayed in all its employer branding efforts.
2. Timing Is Everything
Mentioning that you want to work flexibly in your cover letter is an honest approach, but it may ultimately be a negative strategy. It gives the resume-sorters an easy reason to reject you right away.
Instead, hold off on mentioning your desire for flexible work until it looks like the organization wants to make an offer – or even until the offer is actually made. At that point, the company will be more open to hearing you out, and you will be in a stronger negotiating position.
3. Be Specific
If a company is hiring, that’s usually because it has a specific and pressing need for help. If you make vague inquiries about flexible work, you might scare the employer off. The hiring authorities may wonder whether or not they’ll be able to depend on you if you’re already talking about getting out of the office before you were even hired!
When presenting your case for flexible work, you may want to avoid the word “flexible” altogether. It just seems to ring an alarm bell with most employers.
Rather, what you want to do is ask for a specific schedule alteration, such as being able to work from home on Mondays or being allowed to start later and stay later on certain days. That way, the employer will understand the exact parameters of your request, making it easier for them to evaluate whether or not your proposition will work for the company.
If possible, let the employer know that the flexibility works both ways. For example, tell the employer that, with notice, you’ll gladly change or increase your hours in order to meet deadlines. If you give the employer something in return, they will be more likely to grant your request for flexible work.
4. Use Flexible Work as a Bargaining Chip
One of the best ways to secure a flexible work arrangement is to bring it to the table during the negotiation process. At this point, you know the employer wants you, and you can use flexible work as a bargaining chip. For example, you can agree to take a slight cut in salary in exchange for flexible work.
If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to present your request for flexible work as workable and beneficial for both the employer and yourself. Cast in this light, flexible work may look attractive to even the most wary employers.