How to Ask Your Boss for a More Flexible Work Schedule
As more jobs move online, an increasing number of employees are adopting flexible schedules to compete with the 24/7 nature of commerce and ease their work-life balance.
Whether you'd like to skip the peak rush hours on the highways or transition to a few days of working at home to ease family life, we have advice from experts on how to ask your boss for a more flexible work schedule.
History Is Important
Before starting the conversation with your boss, it's important to remember that some people still think the traditional Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 schedule is necessary.
The old-school program has its "origins in the Industrial Revolution," Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom told the Harvard Business Review. "But times, they are a-changin’. We live in a different era."
Bloom added that some employers are deeply skeptical about flexible schedules, especially ones involving work from home policies. "They refer to it as 'shirking from home' or 'working remotely, remotely working,'" he said. "They think it means goofing off and watching cartoons."
It's important to remember this when crafting your conversation with your employer because it will help you determine what points need to be made during the chat.
Research Supports Flexibility
Know the research behind flexible schedules and work from home programs. If your boss is more skeptical of flexible schedules, you're going to want to bring the research that shows how working from home increases productivity, efficiency, and engagement.
"It is possible to be as, or more, productive," Karen Dillon, coauthor of several best-selling titles, including "How Will You Measure Your Life?" told HBR.
Eliminating traffic from your commute is better for the environment and saves employees a ton of time, but it also "allows you to be more focused and efficient," Dillon said.
Be In Good Standing
Dillon added that employees are "only going to get this opportunity if [they're] already valued and trusted."
So before you work your way through the next steps, make sure you're in good standing with your manager before even bringing up the topic of a more flexible schedule. If you aren't sure where you stand, start by reviewing past performance reviews and analyzing what you have and haven't been doing.
If it looks like you could improve your track record, start by devising a private performance plan for yourself. Once you've upgraded your standing with the company, you'll feel more confident about asking for a flexible schedule.
Make a Strong Case
"Make sure you make a strong case for why it will improve your work, the proverbial win/win scenario," said Jane Tornatore, counselor and author of "Love Yourself Now."
"For example," she said, you can say, "'When I come in later in the day and stay later, I avoid spending time in traffic jams. I arrive at work not having been frustrated for the last hour by traffic, and I start the day with a more positive frame, which helps me be more creative and solve problems more quickly.'"
She added that another way to phrase this would be to say, "I have noticed my mind is much sharper at these times of the day and my work is more focused."
Tornatore said it is best to prepare your responses to your manager's fears ahead of the conversation.
"Your boss will want strong assurances your work will get done, your flexibility in time will not interfere with your work with other team members, and the customers will stay satisfied," she said.
An excellent way to organize your thoughts would be to list ways your flexible schedule will help ensure your work is done, improve your relationships with your coworkers, and support the customer feeling more satisfied.
Try the Sandwich Method
"A great communication tool is called the 'Sandwich Method.' This method is very useful when communicating something you are worried will not be received well," Tornatore said. "Basically, it consists of saying something positive, stating the issue, and ending with something positive."
Tornatore provided an example: "'Ms. Boss, I love working here. I appreciate the company culture and the employees’ commitment to doing a good job. That is my commitment also. I would like a more flexible work schedule because it will make me even more effective in my performance and a happier employee. I am committed to this company and hope to stay for a long time.'"
She added, "Needless to say, only state what is true for you."
Take a Cue From Men
"An interesting note is how men and women differ in how they ask for raises, which likely extends to how they ask for a flexible schedule," Tornatore said. "Men will state they deserve a raise. Women tend to say why they need the raise for financial reasons."
Make a list of the reasons why you deserve a flexible schedule, so you're prepared to address this topic during the chat with your manager. It's important because Tornatore said research shows one method works better than the other.
"Guess which one works better? Yep, the deserving argument is more effective," she said. "So don’t focus on why you need the flex time, but on how it will make you more effective and happier in your job."
Is Flexibility Even an Option
"First and foremost, the role needs to be something that can be accomplished with a flexible schedule," said Meredith Bledsoe, a career counselor.
"Not all professional roles can be accommodated this way," she cautioned, "and it's important for the person to make sure it's a reasonable ask."
Focus on Your Manager's Needs
"I think the person wanting a flexible schedule needs to approach the conversation from the point of view of their boss/supervisor/company," Bledsoe said.
"They will need to focus on how this change could be beneficial to their work," she added, "not to them personally."
Identify the Overlap
Kristen A. Tolbert is the founder of Career Co Labs, a global career and workplace psychology firm. She said that focusing on where your needs overlap with the company's desires is another consideration when planning a conversation about a flexible work schedule.
"What is the zone of possible agreement? That is, where do your needs and the boss’s needs overlap? Articulate your request using a value-based proposition with your boss and employer," Tolbert said.
"Think about your request from the boss’s perspective," she said. "How will they benefit? What are the tangible benefits that they will receive as a result? How well you ensure and measure success and accountability?"
Don't Shy Away From Objections
As more companies move toward flexible schedules, the topic has been written and studied about, which means there are a lot of resources available for you.
Read through stories from others about the objections they faced so you can prepare to have similar discussions with your manager.
"Identify all objections that you think they might have ahead of time and then you can address them head-on in your request," Tolbert said. "Remember that you always want to make your boss look good."
The Happiness Factor
Happy workers mean more dedicated and loyal employees. It might be worth mentioning to your manager what recent research shows on the happiness factor for workers who have more flexible schedules.
Those who work from home at least once a week are 48 percent more likely to rate their job a "10" on the happiness scale, with 10 being the highest, according to a 2016 study by consultancy PWC.
Research What Is Already Available
Before you start preparing for the conversation with your manager, research what the company has already said and done regarding flexible schedules and work from home policies.
If there is already a company policy in place, your conversation can be more about implementing it in your work life instead of asking for permission for the opportunity to exist.
Most of the following steps are still helpful when preparing for the chat, but you should always be familiar with company policies and the official stance captured in the employee policy manual.
Explain How It Would Work
If your manager doesn't have experience devising flexible schedules or work from home policies then explaining exactly how you'll achieve specific tasks in your proposed plan is vital.
"I would recommend identifying a couple of core work tasks the person can complete from home or at different times of the day and move those tasks into that slot," Bledsoe said. "In this version, the person could talk with their boss about wanting to move towards a flexible schedule but wanting to take their time with the transition to minimize any disruption from the change."
Consider a Trial Period
Consider agreeing to a trial period for the new flexible schedule as this ask might make employers feel more comfortable about the idea, especially if they don't have experience with similar arrangements or policies.
"Once they have an understanding of how it might be beneficial to their work, they might bring up the conversation by saying something like, 'I was wondering if we could meet to discuss my work and my schedule. I have an idea I'd like to pilot,'" Bledsoe said. "The person, along with their boss, can come up with what a reasonable trial period would be (one month, three months, etc.)"
Give Your Manager Time
An excellent piece of career advice to consider is that negotiations with your manager — whether about pay, schedule or responsibilities — are not achieved with just one conversation but instead a series of chats.
Of course, it always feels great when your boss immediately approves your ask, but it's crucial "not to push for a 'yes' or 'no' right away," Dillon said.
Instead, "Present your boss with a one-page proposal — nothing elaborate — that details your plan," she said. Then be patient as your boss "needs time to think about the implications, or maybe get approval from HR."
Dillon said. "Give them the time and space to do that."