Money & Career

How to negotiate flexible work arrangements

By: Anna Sharratt

Author: Canadian Living

Money & Career

How to negotiate flexible work arrangements

By: Anna Sharratt
This story was originally titled "Flexible Work Arrangements," in the February 2008 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

For those of you coveting the wondrous three-day work week the colleague down the hall brokered last year, take heart. Flexible work arrangements are on the rise, particularly in Alberta and Quebec, where keeping employees has become a top priority.

But even if your employer isn't in the habit of luring back stay-at-home moms and spending on sabbaticals, there are ways to create a work schedule that keeps you and your family happy. Here's how.

Ponder your position
Begin by reviewing your roles and responsibilities at work. Can you afford a decrease in hours? For those in a customer service role, for example, leaving the phone unattended for a few hours a day will create a service issue. Are fellow staff members able to take over your responsibilities for you? Maybe you manage five employees; is teleconferencing possible?

Scan the scene
Take a hard look at how your office functions. It's a good idea to determine how many staffers have arranged flexible schedules, or maybe flex hours are a moot issue. If you're working for a profits-obsessed company with a predominantly childless staff, you may be hard-pressed to find a receptive ear. Talk to your human resources rep and find out if your company has a policy on flexible work arrangements. If it's already spelled out in black and white, getting a manager on board could be an easier proposition than in a firm sans policy. Determine if there are other colleagues looking for a little flexibility themselves. If so, job-sharing or dividing duties may be an option.
Have a plan
Figure out what type of work arrangement you're after: flexible hours, a compressed work week, a sabbatical or teleconferencing from home. If your goal is to work offsite several days a week, have a child-care plan lined up – your employer will expect one. You'll also take a pay cut if you opt for fewer hours, so be prepared for the financial implications of less pay.

Focus on work arrangements that may be more likely to get manager approval, advises Barbara Jaworski, a consultant with the Workplace Institute in Toronto. "If you're in a situation where you have younger children and you're looking for ongoing flexibility, you may get more buy-in than something casual," she says, such as scheduling changes that occur on a more haphazard basis.

Page 1 of 2Reassure the boss
Once you've decided on a tête-à-tête with the boss, act like it's a job interview. Spell out the proposed arrangement without an assertive tone in your voice. Remind the manager why you deserve it: list specific accomplishments and how you've provided value and proven your loyalty – you don't want to seem like you're asking for time off or aren't interested in taking on new work. Cathy Course, a principal with Hewitt Associates, suggests a "think like the boss" approach, providing ideas on how you'll arrange alternative coverage. "Help them feel comfortable that the work will still get done in a manner that it has always gotten done."

Timing is everything
If your company is downsizing, now may not be an optimal time to hit the boss up for flexible work – or a reduction in hours. You don't want to seem like you're disloyal or disengaged, providing your manager with a reason to let you go. As well, sometimes your request just might not fit the needs of the employer. However, says Jaworski, there might be a silver lining to such a situation: the company might be looking to scale back employees to save money. The trick for you is to figure out which approach works and, like your employer, show a little flexibility.

Stand your ground
Once you've got your reduced work week or flex hours, draw a line in the sand. If your manager still expects you to do the same workload in 80 per cent of the time, some firm reminders should do the trick. "You have to catch your boss every time," says Jaworski. She suggests a direct approach: let your boss know that the workload is too heavy and that you no longer work full time. Jaworski says that two or three such reminders will likely work magic. "But you don't want to be doing it on a regular basis."

Read more: 10 important things to know before you change careers.

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Money & Career

How to negotiate flexible work arrangements