Flexible working: please sir, can I have some more… life

In the UK, laws have passed that say “all employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just carers and parents”.

They also state that employers must handle requests in a “reasonable manner”, by holding meetings, assessing advantages and disadvantages, and providing an appeals process.

Flexible working is very much becoming the norm in many professions, across a number of sectors, says Josh Rufus, manager of Morgan McKinley’s professional practice recruitment team. “I have noticed that an increasing number of firms are using flexible working both as an incentive and a way to reach out to a bigger pool of candidates.”

So how best to ask for flexible working?

Put your boss at ease

Whether or not your employer is sceptical of flexible working, it’s up to you to persuade them that you’ll be able to make it work for the both of you. “The advantages of a flexible work schedule for employees are clear and well-documented,” says HR expert Susan M Heathfield. “So, plan to negotiate a flexible work schedule with your employer in mind. The negotiation is not about you. It’s not about what works best for you and your family.

“The negotiation is about the advantages to the employer for allowing you to work a flexible schedule. With thoughtfulness and a little creativity, you can turn every advantage to you and your family into an advantage for your employer.”

Furthermore, if this is the first time it’s happening in your company, try to make it as collaborative as possible. Getting it right is in the company’s best interest as much as yours. Being able to fit flexible working within a company structure can save money, help retain valuable employees and provide a key benefit when attracting new talent. Offer to help the company build their flexible working offering by providing a case study of your experience, and offering to train people managing their flexible working patterns.

The plan and the pitch

You need a plan and a ‘sales’ pitch, you’re not asking for a hand out, so don’t impulsively jump in without thought. You have just one shot at this, particularly if your company does not have a flexible working policy in place. “Ask around in your organisation to see if other employees have flexible schedules,” says Heathfield. “Find out what they did to negotiate the schedule and heed their tips for making the schedule work.”

Persuade your employer that by working flexibly you’ll be providing a higher or equivalent level of productivity and value for money as you would by being chained to the desk nine-to-five.

“Make it easy for the boss to say, ‘yes’,” says Heathfield. “Think about what you want to negotiate. What work schedule will provide the work-life balance you’d like? Think about your life and your job. Can you work components of the job from home? If so, how many days would be ideal? Or, will a later start time allow you to drop the kids at daycare?”

The proposal

Your proposal will be something you present face-to-face and in an email, so it needs to be clearly written and well presented. A written document will put your boss at ease; it will give them a chance to better evaluate and to engage with you. Add an FAQ at the end, after all, your boss might need to go to their boss and pitch on your behalf. So firstly, you need to win them on the idea; then secondly, you need to make it easy for them to pitch up the ladder.

The written proposal and plan should:

  • Assuage any concerns your employer may have about loss of productivity or money.
  • Focus on how you remain communicative with your team and seniors. The communication and feedback loop is critical.
  • How your output and performance will be measured away from the office and how any logistical issues will be resolved.
  • As explicitly as possible, but without denigrating the ‘in office’ working practices or environment, describe why you think this will work for you – you’ll be more creative; your work-life balance will improve and you’ll be more refreshed when you do work; there are certain parts of your job that you’ll do more efficiently away from the office.
  • Show that by compartmentalising your work load you’ll be more efficient and dynamic.

It’s not a dirty word

When asking for flexible working people worry that the first thing their boss will think is that they’re losing their drive and ambition. Be confident and firm when negotiating, prove that if anything this will improve your performance and give you more time, allow you more space to deliver what you were hired for. Flexible working isn’t a step back, it’s modern.

At the same time, manage expectations – your own and those of your boss. Don’t over reach just to get a confirmation.

Lastly, don’t say that you’re struggling when you give the reasons for wanting flexible hours. It’s fine to be honest about wanting to better manage your time and work-life balance, these are not new concepts to employers and managers, they may even end up following you down the flexiworking path.

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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