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How to Ask for (and Get) a Flexible Work Arrangement

Erin Jay
Feb. 14, 2018

This advice will help you create a plan for a more manageable work schedule. 

How to Ask for (and Get) a Flexible Work Arrangement
Image via Getty Images/Hero Images

Do you want more flexibility at work? You’re not alone. Many working mothers don’t have family in the area to help with caring for their children. Most kids today have busy schedules outside the classroom, and it’s an extra job for parents just to manage their activities!

A recent study found 50 percent of U.S. adults rank flexible hours as their most important work perk. But how do you get the work arrangement you crave?

“It is easy to identify why you ‘need’ flexibility, but more difficult to articulate how this can be a win-win for you and the organization,” said Jennifer Sabatini Fraone, associate director of communications and programming for the Boston College Center for Work & Family. “If you are seeking a long-term, formal arrangement, take the time to honestly think through what you would like to propose and the potential impact this will have on your manager, team, and customers.”

So, how do you ask for -- and get -- more flexibility at work? We talked to some experts to get some advice for employees as they prepare to ask for a flexible work arrangement. Learn how to create a better schedule that works for you and your family with these great tips. 


1) Craft Your Proposal and Expectations

The first step to getting a more flexible work schedule is asking for it. In asking for what you want, always be prepared to negotiate your proposal.

“When negotiating for more flexibility in your schedule, it's important to build a case for yourself,” said Georgene Huang, CEO and co-founder of Fairygodboss, a career community for women to share their workplace experiences. “Do your research and craft a proposal that is best for you, and explain why it will benefit the company. Make your best scenario your absolute dream setup, so if you get pushback, you can negotiate for less.”

Selena Rezvani, vice president of Consulting and Research at Be Leaderly and author of “Pushback, How Smart Women Ask -- and Stand Up -- for What They Want,” said she negotiated from full-time to part-time work in one management consulting job she held while pursuing an executive-type MBA. 

What helped her get a positive response? There was no precedent for other part-time workers within the company that she could point to. Instead, Rezvani said she gathered one page of bulleted data showing which of their competitors offered part-time roles, and she researched the benefits of offering employees non-traditional work schedules.


2) Explain How It Will Benefit You and the Company

Outline how the flexibility you’re seeking will help you manage your responsibilities and accomplish your goals. Discuss how it can also benefit your employer. The plan should show how your work will be managed and accomplished and who will provide coverage when you’re not in the office.

“Perhaps most important: I created a brief work plan showing how the momentum of our current projects would flow uninterrupted,” Rezvani said. “It included the days of the week and exact hours I proposed working, with a targeted project list with deadlines and list of involved team members. It helped to ask at a time when some of my projects were naturally concluding, rather than gearing up. It also helped de-risk my ask to suggest that we try it as a trial arrangement for three months, which my boss never took me up on.”

Overall, Rezvani said she positioned her request as a natural extension of her current work activities rather than as a sharp turn or drastic change in their operations. This reframing helped her get a "yes!”

“If there’s a neutral or positive business effect, at the end of the day, the companies offering flexible work environments will be the successful ones in competitive marketplaces -- especially in competitive labor markets,” said James Morrissey, senior human resources business partner with Oasis Outsourcing.

When making your proposal, be sure to emphasize why this new arrangement makes good business sense. For example, Scott Behson, a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and author of “The Working Dad’s Survival Guide,” suggested saying, “My job requires long stretches of concentration, and this is easier to do at home then in the busy office. Working from home one to two days a week would help me do a better job and help me. Here’s how it could work…” is far better than saying, “Working from home would help me with child care.”

“Make it very hard to say ‘no’ by painting a picture of the benefits for the company (not just you), and be prepared to take on a lot of the legwork to implement your vision once you’ve got the green light,” Rezvani said.

By framing your request as a natural progression of your current job rather than a dramatic change in their operations, you have a better chance of hearing your boss say "yes."


3) Be Sure You’re Prepared

Rezvani advised that you do your homework before making the request by doing your research and assembling important data, including the following:

  • Performance metrics for you and your team

  • The percentage of other employees with current flexible arrangements (or other precedents)

  • Third-party data on increased productivity resulting from flexible arrangements

  • Competitor data regarding flexible arrangements offered


4) Suggest a Trial Period

A manager may initially be reluctant, so propose a two-month trial period. Work together to set goals and to give your manager the tools they need to measure performance. It’s likely things will go really well, and you can make your arrangement more permanent at the end of two months.


5) Be Flexible in Your Request

Depending on the type of business you work for, you may be limited in how much flexibility that is available to you. Be willing to compromise. Perhaps that means starting out working from home one day a week or having more of a flexible schedule on Fridays, because that may be a slower day in the office. Being flexible yourself may allow your employer to feel more confident in granting your request.

“Flexibility -- no pun intended -- will also be critical in this negotiation,” Huang said. “Be prepared to compromise and determine what you're willing to sacrifice for a more accommodating work schedule before you enter the negotiation.”


Liz Taurasi contributed to this article.

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