The way America works is changing fast, but some businesses refuse to accept it. Many companies cling to traditional work models despite countless studies showing the benefits flexible work programs have for both workers and the entities for which they work for.
In these cases, it’s up to the employee to convince management of the value of flexible work. When the company completely lacks a flexible work policy, this can be easier said than done. Luckily, a recently released fact sheet from flexible work advocacy group 1 Million for Work Flexibility (1MFWF) offers a step-by-step guide to drafting a flexible work proposal for your supervisor.
The Reasons for Flexible Work
There are many reasons an employee may decide they would be better off with a flexible schedule, but it’s important to focus a proposal on the benefits for the business.
“Employees are typically driven to ask for work flexibility for a personal reason, often in response to a personal crisis or dramatic change: a sick loved-one, a personal health issue, a move, a pregnancy,” says Emma Plumb, director of 1MFWF. “If you haven’t thought through the details, you’re likely to emphasize those personal reasons for needing flex [in your proposal], which isn’t going to help you make your case.”
Before rushing into your boss’s office to beg for flexible hours or telecommuting options, you need to get your proverbial ducks in a row. According to Plumb, it’s important to focus your proposal on the following information:
- Identify exactly what type of flexibility makes the most sense for both you and your job requirements.
- Understand the landscape at your company and establish whether there’s precedent for your case.
- Delineate how you will continue to communicate and collaborate with your boss and colleagues.
- Plan for a trial period.
- Choose a time to discuss the issue when your boss will be most receptive.
- Showcase how flexibility is a win-win for employers and employees. Emphasize that it’s not a perk or an accommodation, but rather a strategy for improving performance and productivity.
The key to winning flexible work is to show your boss how the proposed plan will positively impact not only the company, but also the manager themselves.
“Bosses fear that flex will end up meaning more work for them,” Plumb explains. “They worry that an employee they can’t see won’t get their work done, or that flexible schedules will be difficult to manage. It’s key to emphasize all the ways that flex makes good business sense and will make things better and easier for them.”
Need help formulating a few convincing reasons why flex is a good idea? Plumb has some suggestions:
- Flex will help you do your own job more effectively. That might be because you’ll be more engaged, healthier, and/or because you’ll have less stress and be better able to focus — or all of the above.
- Reducing or eliminating your commute will allow you to be more prompt or more available during times when you’d otherwise be in transit.
- It’s likely you’ll take fewer sick days, and be more available overall. You’ll also be better positioned to continue working in a weather disaster like a snowstorm or some other unforeseen emergency.
- Because of that increased availability, you may even be able to take on additional responsibilities.
- If applicable, mention the cost savings that could come from remote work (less real estate, less equipment usage).
- Point out successful examples of flex in action. If there’s a colleague or another team working flexibly at your company, all the better.
The Impossible Boss
What about those bosses who are practically guaranteed to shoot down a flexible work proposal on sight? Employees working for organizations with no flexible work precedent or an extreme dedication to traditional work models are likely to face heavy pushback, but that doesn’t mean they should give up all hope of progress.
“If a company doesn’t have any precedent for allowing flex, that may just be because they’re used to doing business a certain way and no one has spoken up yet about how things could improve,” Plumb says. “If a company has denied previous requests, it’s possible that’s because the requests didn’t emphasize the business case strongly enough or at all. You may be better at making the case than anyone else before you, or you may speak to the right person with whom no one else has discussed this issue before. It’s certainly worth making the attempt.”
Even if a boss says no, that doesn’t have to be the end of your dream of better work/life balance. Plumb herself has experienced hitting a brick wall with flex requests. When her high-ups repeatedly turned her proposals down, she decided to take a more drastic step.
“At that point, I had to evaluate my own priorities very carefully, and I realized that flex was so important to me that I needed change to happen or I would quit my job,” she says. “Once I made that decision, I felt comfortable elevating the conversation all the way up to the president of the organization. After meeting with him and getting stymied yet again, I knew I’d exhausted all my options, and I handed in my notice and moved on.”
If a boss says “no” on the first try, wait awhile and try again. Plumb kept at it for two years before deciding it was time to leave. Ultimately, of course, the goal is not to quit your job, but to change it.