How to Ask for More Flexibility at Work

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Envious of that friend who spends half his workday at Starbucks or that co-worker who takes off every other Friday? These days, flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting, working shorter workweeks and clocking in nontraditional hours are becoming increasingly popular among employees.

According to a recent survey of working men and women conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Mom Corps, 75% of respondents reported having "at least a little" flexibility in their job, and 73% of respondents agreed that flexibility is one of the most important factors they consider when looking for a new job or deciding what company to work for.

Think you'd benefit from a flexible work arrangement? Don't be afraid to talk to your boss. "The best way to ask for more flexible working arrangements is by asking—change rarely comes if you don't initiate it yourself," says Charley Polachi, managing partner at Polachi Access Executive Search in Framingham, Mass.

Of course, sometimes a bit of artful negotiation is required to convince your boss that you deserve a better schedule. Here are five tips from career experts to help you prepare for the conversation.

Do Your Research

Before approaching your boss, research a variety of print and online publications to see what type of flexible arrangements are common in your industry, says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing service with locations worldwide.

Hosking also suggests reviewing your company's employee handbook to familiarize yourself with the guidelines about flexible scheduling options. "Determine which option—compressed workweek, modified start time, telecommuting—fits best not only with your own needs, but also with those of the company," he said.

If you're looking to work from home, Mom Corps founder and CEO Allison O'Kelly suggests researching recent workplace studies on productivity levels of remote workers, which you can refer to during your meeting to help build a convincing argument.

Practice Makes Perfect

Hosking suggests asking a trusted friend to play the part of your manager and role-play the discussion a few times to build your confidence and polish your delivery. "Be prepared to respond to comments such as 'we've never done this before,' 'everyone will want to do this,' or 'your position doesn't lend itself to flextime,'" Hosking says.

It's Not All About You

While it might be tempting to tell your boss how much your kids need you at home or how starting your workday at 10 a.m. would give you more time to go to the gym, don't make the conversation all about yourself.

"Rather than focusing on your personal life, adopt your manager's point of view and explain how increased flexibility would enhance your productivity and benefit clients and co-workers," says Hosking.

For instance, if you'd like to work nontraditional hours, you could explain to your boss that it might allow you to work more closely with international clients or customers in a different time zone, says career consultant Dana Leavy-Detrick, founder and lead writer at Brooklyn Resume Studio. If you're interested in switching your schedule from full time to part time, crunch the numbers to show your boss what the company might save from this change. "Perhaps you have a spouse with insurance or an already-existing 401(k) plan and don't require the full benefits available to you," says Leavy-Detrick.

Be Flexible

Even if your boss doesn't approve the exact schedule you propose, it's O.K. to be flexible if he or she suggests a modified version of your request.

"For example, even if you aren't able to telecommute full-time, you may be able to do so a couple of days a week or work from a satellite office closer to your home," says Hosking.

Suggest a Trial Period

If your boss is skeptical about your request for a flexible work arrangement, you can suggest trying it out for just a few months

"After you present your case, ask if you can start with a three- or six-month trial period to prove you will be just as productive or more with the flexibility," says O'Kelly. "By presenting a strong case and holding up your end of the deal, he or she will have a harder time saying no to your long-term request."

--Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet

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