Whether it’s flexible hours, the option to work from home more often or the ability to take off in the middle of the afternoon to watch a school event without fear of retribution, flexibility isn’t always guaranteed in the workplace. Often, employees have to come right out and ask (or fight) for it.
A WerkLabs study by The Mom Project found that flexibility at work is the number one priority working moms have while looking for a job. In fact, a small majority ranked flexibility as just as important as salary and 42% said it outranked salary altogether. When asked if they’d be willing to leave their current job if another with more flexibility came along, an overwhelming 83% said yes.
Simply put, for most working moms, flexibility is not optional. It is essential.
While having the ability to freely leave the office to go pick up the kids from school is certainly helpful, flexibility is about more than that. It’s one of the many facets of respect. When an employer is truly flexible with working moms, they’re basically saying, “I support your need for work-life integration and I trust you to produce quality work regardless of how or when you do it.”
If you love your job but it lacks flexibility, you don’t necessarily have to change jobs or employers to get it. Give your employer the chance to work with you to find a solution that works for both parties by advocating for flexibility. Here are some tips to consider when getting the conversation started.
Define flexibility to properly advocate for it
Flexibility does not have a singular definition in the workplace. In the WerkLabs study, working moms said their definitions of flexibility varied from working convenient hours instead of the standard 9-5, having control over the number of hours they work in a day or week, not having to stick to a specific set of hours if their job can be done in less, and the option to work remotely. Each of these interpretations of flexibility is different but also technically correct, and it’s evidence that the blanket statement of “flexible job” doesn’t really work.
This is why you need to have a clear idea of what you want in terms of flexibility and be able to clearly communicate your ask. You can’t be vague when discussing it with your boss because you may need to block off an hour at the end of the traditional work day to care for your kids and want to make it up in the evening or weekend, but your boss may think starting work earlier each day would work for you. Your manager isn’t going to know what you want if you don’t explicitly tell them.
Come up with a list of what matters most to you in terms of flexibility and rank them in terms of priority. This way, you’ll not only be able to define exactly what you need but you’ll also go into the conversation knowing what you’re willing to compromise on and where you need to draw lines.
Go into the discussion prepared
Think of this as a business pitch, not an informal conversation. Treat it like a presentation by coming prepared with all of the information, including answers to questions you anticipate them asking.
When preparing your pitch, tailor it to your audience. What does your boss respond to the most? What appeals to them? What do you need to say to get them to agree to what you’re asking of them?
Keep the pitch professional, not personal
- Steer the conversation toward data and facts as much as possible
- Try not to position the request as a personal need, even if it is
- Don’t be afraid to mention commitments at home, but focus more on commitments at work
Do the research
- Find out if anyone else on the team or in the company has a flexible arrangement. Ask how they got the arrangement and how it is working out for them.
- Look for studies that back up claims about why flexibility is good for the business and how other companies have successfully allowed for flexible schedules.
Explain why more flexibility is good for business
- Increased productivity: Flexible environments usually result in managers focusing more on employee results versus having employees physically present at set times which lends itself to better impact on the business’s bottom line.
- Increased employee engagement: Flexibility makes employees feel empowered and respected. Engaged employees understand how they contribute to a company’s success and in turn, tend to take less sick days, stay with a company longer, and add to the longevity of a company’s institutional knowledge.
- Increased results: When employees work the hours they are most productive, they deliver even higher quality work.
- Limited distractions: When employees can focus on personal things as the need arises they have more ability to focus on work-related tasks without time-consuming distractions.
Expect the ‘optics’ and ‘equity’ arguments
If a company doesn’t offer much flexibility to employees across the board, expect some pushback. Often, employers focus on the optics of having employees in the office with the notion that people need to “see” each other working. Another common argument is equity across the team, departments and the company as a whole. If employees on a team aren’t given the same flexibility as one another then that could cause conflict, which can spread across an organization if only a handful of workers get the luxury of a flexible schedule.
These issues are hard to argue against, they’re basically the work schedule version of “this is the way it’s always been done.” The best way to address these issues is head-on before your boss brings them up. Make it part of the pitch, acknowledge that you’d be pioneering something new, and spin it into a way this trial will be good for the business in the long run.
Make it hard to say no
Managers can be hesitant to agree to a new proposal that could represent a rather large shift in workplace culture. If this seems to be the direction your boss is headed, ask to start with a trial period to see how it goes. One to two months should be enough time to see any impact, positive or negative and isn’t an overly large amount of time for your manager to agree to.
Remember, this is a sales pitch. Go into the conversation empowered, prepared and ready to push for what you need. Arm yourself with data and facts to strengthen your argument and potentially give your employer a new perspective on job flexibility.
Consider the next move
There’s no guarantee you’ll ultimately get the flexibility you need from this conversation or your workplace. At that point it will be time to think about if you can work with what you are offered or if you need to start looking elsewhere. If you do decide to pursue other employment opportunities, keep these notes on hand to use in those future discussions.
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