How to Ask for a Flexible Schedule

When Janine Low found out she was pregnant, she asked her boss if she could bring her son to work when she returned to her job as vice president of marketing and operations for AvenueWest Global Franchise, and she was told she could — until he could walk.

“When he started crawling and getting into everything, I asked if I could work from home two days a week,” Low says. That was almost three years ago, and she still works from home two days a week. “My advice to everyone is to always ask for what you need or want — the worst they can do is say no and at least this will open up the field for negotiation.”

FlexJobs, a job search site that specializes in flexible jobs, says telecommuting and work-from-home options are growing, and more employers are considering 30-hour weeks and early, or late, start shifts. Sound appealing? Here’s how to make your case.

Look for Precedent

First, check with HR to see if they have any formal policies about flexible scheduling, says Brie Reynolds, a senior career specialist at FlexJobs. Most flexible work arrangements are still informal, she says, but if your company has a policy, that’s a good place to start.

Reynolds also recommends asking around to find out whether any of your co-workers have a flexible schedule. “If so, offer to meet them for coffee or a chat to find out how they got their situation, what’s working with it and any advice they might have for convincing your boss,” Reynolds says.

Document Your Value

Flexibility is often seen as a privilege, so you need to make the case that you’re a strong performer and worth the perceived risk. “When presenting a change in your role where trust is required, you want to do it when you’re in a strong position, ideally — when you’ve been doing well at work versus having had a big project blow up, for example,” Reynolds says.

The most convincing argument is showing how a flexible schedule can benefit the company, Reynolds says. “Your boss is already well aware that you’ll benefit from having a flexible schedule. You need to show them how it’ll benefit the team and company as well.” To show that value, be specific about how you’ll get more work done, be less distracted and save the company money. This is a business issue and you should present a business case for it, she says

Understand Your Manager’s Perspective

Your boss isn’t interested in how you’ll spend the time you used to spend commuting doing yoga; she wants to know how the work is going to get done. “Be prepared to respond to possible objections, such as ‘we’ve never done this before,’ ‘everyone will want to do this’ or ‘your position doesn’t lend itself to flextime,’ ” says Brandi Britton, district president of OfficeTeam, a staffing firm. Be ready to discuss in detail how you’ll manage your workload and job responsibilities on an alternative schedule. Include information about how you’ll be accessible and responsive, Britton says.

A trial run can help your boss visualize how it might work. “Many bosses will be hesitant to allow a flexible schedule arrangement at first,” Reynolds says. “Ask them if you could test-run your plan for a month, then meet with them to evaluate your performance and move forward.”

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