People more than ever want flexibility. It is my hope that employees will start demanding flexibility as a condition of employment. This article provides practical tips and suggestions for employees and job seekers on how to negotiate a flexible work schedule.
Flexible work schedules come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and include;
- job sharing
- compressed work week
- part-time work
- contract work
- reduced workload
- extra vacation time
So, how can a current employee or job seeker negotiate a flexible work schedule with their employer? Negotiating flexibility requires preparation, the right strategy, and persistence.
PREPARING FOR THE NEGOTIATION
It is amazing that most people never prepare for a negotiation with their employer, which is the biggest mistake they can make. To prepare for a negotiation, there are 6 important steps to follow.
Ensure you are in the Driver’s Seat. If you are currently working, ensure you have good relationships with your manager and colleagues, and good performance ratings before you begin negotiating. If you are applying to a new job, wait until you are offered the position before you negotiate.
Desperation destroys Negotiation Power. Make sure your finances are in good shape before you negotiate. If you are about to lose your home and you can’t pay your bills you will not be able to negotiate effectively.
Build your Confidence. To be effective in a negotiation, you need to feel confident in yourself and your abilities. Prior to the negotiation, prepare a list of your own personal successes, and unique skills and abilities.
Think Positive. If you hear yourself say, “they’ll never give me this, it’s impossible” find ways to challenge this negative thinking. Consider how a flexible schedule would be possible, how your employer could make it work, and why you deserve it!
Manage your Emotions. Just the idea of negotiating with your manager or potential employer can be stressful. That’s because when you begin a negotiation, a conflict arises between you and your employer. So, be prepared to manage your emotions (e.g. exercise, watch a good movie, get a massage, and think positive).
Do your Research. Prove how a flexible work schedule can benefit the business.
- First, find out if your company has flexible work policies and the procedures for applying. Even if your company has a policy, you will still need to negotiate and prove your case.
- Review reports on the business case for workplace flexibility and prepare a brief report for your manager. (Some starting points are Flexibility Alliance (www.flexibilityalliance.org), Corporate Voices for Working Families (ww.cvworkingfamilies.org) and WFC Resources (www.workfamily.com) or just search online for “making flexibility work.”)
- Review real life examples of how people have made a flexible work schedule work and what they specifically did to make this happen.
- Create an action plan showing how your flexible work schedule would work in practice. Be prepared to suggest a pilot test of your new schedule to your manager. Remember your managers #1 concern is that you get your work done, so be prepared to discuss how your performance can be measured.
STARTING THE NEGOTIATION
Now that you have prepared yourself for the negotiation, you are finally ready to talk with your employer or manager, here are 3 tips for the actual discussion.
Make Positive Comments. When you begin the negotiation, make positive comments about the company and your experiences with the company. Thank them for taking time to talk with you.
State The Business Case. Avoid discussing your desire for work-life balance. Don’t make the negotiation about you, make the negotiation about the business and how a flexible work schedule can improve your companies’ bottom-line. People often make the mistake of opening with “I’ve been really stressed out or I don’t have enough time to spend with my family.” Focus, instead, on how companies with flexible work schedules have more motivated employees and better results. Talk about how the changing demographics of today are leading to creative flexible schedules. Baby boomers want to keep on working. Recent graduates approach schedules differently to those who entered the workforce 10 – 15 years ago. Provide your manager with a written report about the business case and examples of successful flexible work schedules.
Stay Focused, Calm, and Relaxed. Don’t expect that everything will be resolved in one meeting. If you get a conversation started and begin a negotiation with your manager, you have succeeded! Get your boss to say Yes to a next meeting. The goal of this first negotiation is not to get a flexible schedule but to get your manager to agree to discuss flexibility with you further. Most managers are afraid of flexible work schedules and need time to absorb the idea and the information you have provided.
ORGANIZING NEXT STEPS
Now that you’ve started the negotiation, you will need to organize next-steps. Here are 3 more tips.
Prepare for more meetings. Now that you’ve gathered more information, pretend you are your manager or employer and step into their shoes to see the pros and cons of the schedule from their point of view and then develop counter- arguments. If your manager is hesitant, focus on getting agreement to a pilot program for a few months. Your manager may feel more comfortable knowing that there is an easy escape route.
Be prepared to wait. You might wait several weeks or several months until a decision is made about your request for a flexible work schedule. It is important during this time that you practice managing your emotions. Many people find waiting difficult, but it is just part of the process. Don’t give in or give up during this time, hold out for what you want. If you manage your emotions you will find that waiting is not that difficult.
No is just the beginning. At some point in the negotiation, you might hear “no, this is not possible.” When most people hear “no,” they stop the negotiation and give up. This is the opposite of what you should do. You should take time to create a new strategy and approach. What ever you do don’t give up, even if this means declining an offer or finding a new job that will support a flexible work schedule!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Christine E. Dickson is an international speaker and published author on work-life balance. She holds a Dual PhD in Clinical Psychology and Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Besides working in private practice as a clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has worked as a consultant and trainer for companies such as Wells Fargo, Johnson & Johnson, Dupont, Prudential, Chevron, BASF Corporation, Sandia National Laboratory, Novartis Consumer Health, State of Michigan, State of Kentucky, Corporate Counseling Associates, Health Net, Partners Health Care, Edgewood Center, and Florida Power and Light. Dr. Dickson’s corporate work has focused exclusively on the business and legal case for workplace flexibility.