If you were to look up “HOT MESS” in the dictionary seven years ago, you would have seen my face. I was ragged from a short maternity leave with my first daughter and anxiously waiting for my boss to decide whether I could go part time. Before having a child, I naively thought that working remotely or working from home would be an easy way to transition back to work. And now that I had an infant, I desperately needed to define what work-life balance meant for me and my family.
The “ask” was uncomfortable, not just from sitting in a chair upright at 9-months pregnant, but because I had never asked for something from my employer before. I had always said “yes” to every new request and now I was learning in real-time how to say “no.” It was just as uncomfortable as my girl’s jiu jitsu to my bladder.
Asking your boss for flexibility does not have to be this painful. It requires some soul searching, evaluation of your work, your employer’s policies, and a dash of courage. But the good news is that many employers have strategically decided to make work-life balance a priority as a way to attract and retain top talent.
Here are 7 steps to confidently asking your boss for more flexibility:
1. Start by preparing at home.
Look at what your personal and family goals are. This is a family decision, because the reality of some flex arrangements is that you’ll be working at night or weekends to make up for the time you were able to spend with the kiddos. What can you afford? How willing is your partner to accommodate your work needs? Does your child care arrangement support your flexibility needs?
2. Evaluate your work.
The type of work you do and the work culture you’re in will affect your boss’ willingness to grant flexible working hours. Can your work only be done in your workplace? Is your work determined by your clients’ or customers’ work hours? Basically, can your work be done outside traditional work hours and not set to a specific location?
3. Know your options.
As technology and working teams evolve, there are many ways that organizations can accommodate flex workers. Your options vary based on the number of hours, where, and when you work. So before you think of asking for flex work, get to know your options:
- Part-time working or staggered hours
- Flexi-time (working a full day but the freedom to work nontraditional hours)
- Working from home or remotely
- Compressed hours (for example, fitting a five-day week into four days)
- Term-time or annualized working (in other words, taking paid or unpaid leave during school holidays or just working a certain number of hours a year)
4. Make it real.
Like so much of work these days, if it’s not on a PowerPoint slide, then it doesn’t exist. Writing a formal proposal clearly and confidently will help explain your plan. The proposal should include the following:
- How your proposal will work for you and your team and the business objectives
- Acknowledging potential problems and how you would solve them
- Listing logistical solutions for communication, updates, face-to-face meetings, or other workplace practices
- Proposal for a trial period with regular check-ins
5. Be brave and just schedule it.
After you’ve done your homework and taken so much time to write a proposal, the easy part should be just to talk to your boss. I’ve seen the smartest corporate divas cower at the thought of asking for flexibility. The reason is when you ask for a better work life balance from a boss who has sacrificed their own personal life for work, it forces them to evaluate his own poor choices. They might say all day long that they are worried about productivity and the bottom line if you go part time. But at the heart of it, you will be challenging status quo. You are a corporate warrior!
If this is the first time you’ve asserted yourself in your career, take a deep breath and just DO IT! Get prepared for the meeting by:
- Practicing your pitch in front of a trusted friend or colleague
- Anticipating pushback and having responses ready
- Double checking your math and being ready to recite the facts
- Knowing your non-negotiables
7. It needs to be a win-win-win.
The ideal result of your work flexibility would be that your boss, your team, and you benefit from the change. A triple win has to be factored in since everyone will be affected. Consult with team members to see how they would be willing to adapt to the new arrangement.
8. Be amazing.
The worst thing you could do is to slack or let the team down during your flex trial period. Prove to your boss that flexibility is the key to a happy and productive workforce!
Still think a flexible position is the right one for you? Check out Fairygodboss' Work-Life Balance Guide to search by industry and find companies that offer part-time jobs, flexible working policies, telecommuting positions, and more!
Elaine is a Working Mom Support Coach on a mission to de-stress maternity leave and propel a nation of thriving working mothers. From her own emotionally traumatic return-to-work after her first daughter (HOT MESS!), ThriveMomma.com was born. She coaches new moms on return-to-work readiness, time management, and mindful living, and also consults for corporations on paternity transition planning and work/life policies to retain and nurture working parents.
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