An increasing number of people are ditching the traditional office nine-to-five in favour of flexible working, whether it’s working from home, job-sharing or making use of flexitime.
In a flexible working arrangement, employees have more of a say over how, where and when they work. While this brings obvious benefits including a better work/life balance, flexibility works for employers too – boosting health and wellbeing, reducing sick leave and increasing productivity and motivation.
Employees who do not have an option to work flexibly are twice as likely to experience work-related stress than those with flexible workdays, a 2018 survey by VitalityHealth found.
So how should you approach a conversation with your employer about flexible working?
Check your contract
Before cornering your boss in their office with a list of reasons why you should be allowed to work flexibly, it’s a good idea to read through your contract or the employee handbook first.
“When you were hired, you may have been given an employee handbook filled with the ins and outs of the company’s rules,” says Jo Cresswell, careers expert at the job and recruiting site Glassdoor.
“The first thing you should do is check this handbook, or your contract itself, to see if there’s any mention of flexible schedules or working from home. This will give you an idea of whether you’re contractually eligible for flexible working.”
Make a plan
If there’s no mention of flexible working in your contract or employee handbook, don’t panic. Research the kind of flexible schedule you would like to increase your chances of getting it approved, Cresswell says.
“As part of this, consider how you want to balance your work and personal life and what schedule would make the most sense, both for you and your employer.
“Are there certain days of the week where you physically need to be in your office – for meetings perhaps? What parts of your job can be done remotely? Where will you be working from when you’re not in the office – at home or elsewhere?
“If you can show your manager that you have a set plan in place for what your schedule will look like, it’ll be easier for them to buy into.”
If your boss is hesitant, suggest a trial period for a week so you can both see how a flexible working arrangement could work.
Sell your skills
Of course, you will need to make a solid business case for your flexible working request. Rather than focusing on problems with your current working arrangement, Shelly Snelson, co-founder and director of the recruitment and consultancy business Flexology, recommends treating the meeting as a refresher course for your employer in why they hired you in the first place.
Choose the right time for a meeting so you can go through all your points and be confident.
“Gather examples of work you’re particularly proud of and collect great feedback from clients and others that you can share,” she says. “In the face of all that positivity and productivity your boss is much more likely to want to support you in your role however they can.
“If you can explain how flexible working will benefit their business your employer is more likely to be receptive to it as an idea,” Snelson adds. “For example: are you able to start work earlier or finish later in order to expand the hours in which the business will be contactable by clients? If you’d like to work remotely, would this save the business money in overheads and allow your boss to free up desk space for other employees?”
Many of us struggle to be assertive in the workplace – and it’s especially difficult when you’re asking your manager for something, even if it benefits both of you.
“Fight the urge to apologise when you ask for the option to work flexibly,” says Snelson. “It’s actually your right as a worker to make a request for flexible working – whether that’s working from home, going part-time, job sharing or altering your working hours to suit your needs.
“By law employers must consider written requests to work flexibly and respond to them within three months; they’ll then need to have a solid business-related reason to reject any requests that have been put forward. You can find out more about exactly what you’re entitled to on the ACAS website.”
Find out if anyone else has done it
Simon Paine is the co-founder and CEO of the PopUp Business School, which helps people from all walks of life to start their own businesses.
“Find out if there’s a precedent in the company or in your sector,” he says. “Employers may not want to do anything that feels risky – if you can provide evidence of it working elsewhere it makes it feel less risky and easier to say yes.”
Make sure you’re performing well
It seems obvious, but an employer is far more likely to consider one of their hardest-working employees for a flexible working arrangement, rather than someone who scrapes by doing the bare minimum.
“Make sure you’re bringing it,” Paine says. “Employees who are top performing are more likely to get a favourable response.”
Don’t expect an immediate answer
Finally, be prepared to negotiate. “If you’re a trusted employee, you shouldn’t have an issue discussing a flexible schedule,” Cresswell says. “However, don’t get your hopes up too high and don’t feel discouraged if your manager doesn’t give a decision straight away.
“At the same time, don’t push for an immediate answer. Your manager may need time to think about the impact of you working flexibly on others in the team, or may need to speak to their own manager or HR as well.”
Paine advises doing a bit of problem-solving to work through any questions your employer might have about flexible working. For example, if they are worried about communications if you want to work from home, you could suggest platforms such as Slack and learn how to use them effectively.
“Make a note of any objections and get creative and collaborative to solve them preferably with your boss,” he says.
And finally, if your employer is unwilling to budge, should you consider moving jobs if you aren’t happy in your current set up?
“We spend so much time at work – if we don’t have a happy working environment it can have a serious impact on our health and wellbeing,” Paine says. “It’s important to do what’s right for you and an increasing number of employers are starting to see the benefits of flexible working.”