Companies don’t have to reveal the number of flexible working requests made and then refused but a survey a couple of years ago found that more than a quarter of people had their requests rejected. And that figure doesn’t take into account the number of people who don’t even bother raising it because they automatically assume it will be refused.
You see we are at a crossroads right now.
Technology has advanced so exponentially that many of us are living our lives and doing jobs that our parents, let alone grandparents, could never have even dreamt of.
My Dad thought it was flippant of me when I used to change jobs every 2 – 3 years. He grew up in an era where you got into a company and you stayed there ideally until retirement. But the idea that you no longer need to be at a desk or at your employer’s location to do your job is entirely without precedent. And therefore, a manager who has no, or limited, experience of a workforce that doesn’t sit in the same physical place as they do is perhaps understandably going to get more than a little twitchy when asked to go for something that he or she just has no context for.
So where do we go from here? We are increasingly working across timezones and continents, digital technology and social media have killed the 9-5 but also made it impossible for you to know where or when I am writing this blog, and companies that insist on the old ways of working really are losing their top people to more agile employers who allow their people to live lives where work is just a part of the many things they do.
But all that said, how do you go about using the F-word at work (we are of course talking about asking for flexible work) – especially if you’re working for one of the dinosaurs, not one of the 21st century forward-thinkers?
Whatever the change you want to make, don’t let the first time your boss hears about it, be from HR.
Yes there are processes and yes there are legal procedures to follow but don’t start there. You want to build trust, so don’t blindside your decision-maker.
Raise it initially as informally as you can, and if possible remove yourself from the discussion so it doesn’t feel personal. Over a coffee, or lunch, or even if the moment is right at the coffee machine, ask about the decision-maker’s views on flexible working. Ask if they’ve ever considered whether aspects of their role or yours could be open to flexibility. And the key word is flexibility. If you are in a full-time role now, asking to go down to three days a week is highly unlikely to be seen as benefiting anyone other than you.
But asking if they’ve ever considered if the job has to be done each day in the office, or what their views are on job-sharing will give you lots of information about what their concerns are likely to be.
Remember this is going to be a marathon not a sprint. Now you have some homework to do. Go away and research into the issues they’ve raised.
If it’s the cost or management time employing someone else to share your job, find out how that would work. Talk to managers of people who do job share and find out what works and what doesn’t – if there’s no-one in your company now, put a post on LinkedIn asking for input.
If it’s that they worry what other managers will say, or that it will open the floodgates for everyone to apply – ask around and do your research. Most other managers won’t blink and most people who don’t need the flexibility are pretty happy to come into the office most days.
But remember, keep it informal and exploratory at this stage.
Inform yourself of the company’s Diversity policy. If there’s a specific focus on retaining and hiring women into the company have a look into this.
Find out about the huge array of flexible working options. Start with Timewise – they’ve just launched their Power Part Timers list. You’ll see just how many people are making it work in so many different ways. But try not to think part-time is the only option. Talk it through at home. If you’re both working, make sure you explore all the possible options. Could you go in early, and leave early while your partner goes in later and leaves late? Just be aware that there are heaps of options out there.
When you do come to raise it more formally with your manager, do it gradually over a couple of meetings. Don’t make it sound like a threat or a ransom, present your case but put yourself in the position of the business. Employers are far more likely to listen if you’re presenting them with answers that will help them, not just giving them all the reasons you think you deserve flexibility.
Give them time to think it through, ask if you can trial it for 4-6 weeks. That will allow you both to see what the impact is and show them that even if you’re not in the office each day, you can still keep things on track.
Show them the benefits this will bring – whether it’s increased loyalty, better employee engagement, more productivity in the hours you’re able to be there – and if you’re presenting the case for a job share, I love the phrase “you get twice the brain power solving exactly the same number of problems.”
It isn’t easy, and every employer and line manager brings their own different perspective. But the overriding message is to try and see things from their perspective and build your case around that, rather your own point of view.
Founder of Careering into Motherhood
March 14, 2018