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Flexing Your Schedule

How to Negotiate a Flex Schedule

professional-referencesThere’s been increased buzz lately about flexible schedules on the heels of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banning work from home arrangements at the tech giant, and other companies including Best Buy following suit.

With more flex schedules on the chopping block, it helps to have some strategies “at the ready” to help you negotiate a flexible arrangement should you desire one. Whether you’re about to start a new job or hoping to go flex with your current employer, consider these ideas on timing, telecommuting, and the negotiation process:

Before You’ve Got the Job

Prior to accepting a job offer, you’re in a stronger negotiating position than you will be once you’ve signed on the line. If having options for workplace flexibility is important to you, be sure to include this in your list of negotiating points, along with salary and other benefits.

Salary negotiation coach Katie Donovan, founder of Equal Pay Negotiations, suggests the following strategies for negotiating flex time for a new job:

  • Use your power. Do not negotiate flex time until you are offered the job and before you accept it. It’s the most powerful time you have in the relationship with a company, so use it well. Bringing up flex time, telecommuting, and all the other job variables beforehand just makes it too easy to take you out of the running as a candidate. Waiting until the boss has decided you are the best of the bunch is the time to sweeten the deal for yourself with whatever work configuration you desire.
  • Be patient. Wait until you have a complete understanding of the employment package before you negotiate flex time and the rest of your package. You need to be able to address multiple benefits such as vacation time, salary, medical benefits, etc. Work schedule should just be part of the laundry list in your counter to the company’s initial job offer.
  • Don’t lower yourself. Flex-time often is a cost savings for companies, so do not offer to accept a lower salary in exchange for working from home one day a week. Conversely, should they be unable to meet your need for a more flexible schedule, you may want to require a higher salary due to the need to pay for more commuting costs, daycare/baby sitting, elder care, etc.
  • Keep it real. When negotiating, just state what you want. You don’t have to include a laundry list of all the whys—it doesn’t really matter. Either the company is open to flex or they are not. What matters more is that the work will not be affected, so concentrate on any potential conflicts that need to be addressed by your proposed creative work schedule. Also, point out any potential benefits to the company from your flexible arrangement.

If You’ve Already Got the Job

While many career experts agree that it’s best to negotiate a flex schedule at the hiring stage while working out the terms of your package, those already on the job can do so as well. Donovan recommends initiating such negotiations with your boss, not with HR. “Your boss is the person who gets the most out of you working for the company, so she or he will have more incentive to work something out with you,” says Donovan.

Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, outlines the following steps that flex seekers should take with current employers:

  • Determine what type of flexibility you want. Flexible work comes in all shapes and sizes: telecommuting, part-time schedules, flexible work hours, job sharing, and a compressed workweek, among others. Figure out which of these you really want and which of these is the best fit with your job duties to make sure you’re not asking for the impossible.
  • Prepare a pitch. If you’re serious about flexible work options, you need to show your boss that by asking for a formal meeting and presenting a proposal. Prepare and practice your proposal, and approach this meeting seriously. The goal is to sell your boss on an idea he or she might not be warm to at first. The more you prepare, the better your chances are.
  • Anticipate your boss’s fears. The biggest fears bosses have when it comes to flexible work arrangements? Trust, communication, and productivity. How will you show your boss you can be trusted to work at home when no one can see what you’re doing, or if you’re working odd hours at the office when no one else is there? What methods of communication will you use, when, and how often? How will you keep track of your daily work and demonstrate your productivity to your boss? Address these types of questions even if your boss doesn’t ask them outright, because your boss is definitely thinking about them.
  • Focus on how a flexible work arrangement benefits the company, not you. Spending more time with your kids or lowering your commuting costs are not your boss’s concern. Focus the benefits on getting more work done, being less distracted, and saving the company money. This is a business issue and you must present a business case for it.
  • Offer to test out the arrangement on a trial basis. Most bosses will be hesitant to allow a flexible work arrangement at first. Ask for a few weeks or a month to test your proposal, and plan to meet with your boss to discuss how it went. Once your company sees your flexible work arrangement in action, they’ll probably open up to the idea.

About Robin Madell

Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She is a contributing writer to U.S. News & World Report and serves as a copywriter, speechwriter, and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association in New York and San Francisco. Robin is the author of Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30 and co-author of The Strong Principles: Career Success.


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