How to Negotiate a Flexible Work Schedule
If you'd like more flexibility in your current job because it would make you less likely to leave, ask for it.
People with more job flexibility are generally more satisfied with what they do, according to a recent study from the Families and Work Institute. A separate study from Mercer, the people management consulting firm, found that nearly one in three U.S. employees is considering leaving, and another 21 percent are "checked out" on the job.
Companies are gradually -- in some cases reluctantly -- offering more flexible work schedules because they have to, according to Kate Lister and Tom Harnish, partners in the Telework Research Network, a consulting firm that helps businesses adopt telework programs. Before the recession, companies started offering telecommuting and other options to hang onto valued workers -- including boomer employees -- in a tight labor market. More adopted the practice during the recession to cut costs, according to the pair, which this week published a report called "The State of Telework in the U.S."
I spoke with Lister and Harnish this week about where the trend is headed, how people can ask for more flexible hours, and what makes someone a good candidate to work from home.
Does a more flexible schedule make people happier at work?
A hallmark study from the 1960s (PDF) written up in the Harvard Business Review and still popular today shows that the single most important contributor to job satisfaction is self-determination, allowing people a say over where and when they work. Just offering flexible work options improves job satisfaction, even if an employee doesn't use them, Harnish says. "People don't want to be told what to do," Lister adds. "Having that choice makes a huge difference, particularly in the over-40 crowd. We're not really climbing the career ladder as much as we were. We're established in our careers" and want more flexibility, she says.
So offering telecommuting and other flexible options keeps people 40 and older in their jobs longer?
Boomers definitely want more say over when and where they work. According to research Lister and Harnish used for their new report, 71 percent of people who've retired and returned to some type of job originally stopped working because they wanted more flexibility. Separately, 70 percent of boomers plan to work for pay after they retire by seeking part-time schedules or flexible work, they say.
If flexible schedules are so great, why don't more companies offer them?
They don't trust their employees, Lister says. "They're measuring butts in the seat versus results. That's why the trend has grown more slowly than predicted during the past 30 years. You can't function with remote employees unless you can trust them." Also, companies haven't figured out how to manage remote employees, or they don't have formal training to teach managers how, Harnish says.
If someone wants to work a more flexible schedule, where do they start?
Pitch your boss on doing a pilot project, Harnish suggests. Keep it small. Propose a specific assignment you could do at home two days a week for a month, for example. That way there's something to measure. "If that works, increase it to three days a week" and if that works, pitch working from home full time, he says. Set out what you want in writing. Include how you and the company would benefit, Lister says. It's also important to make sure your family, neighbors and friends realize that just because you're home during the day doesn't mean you're not working.
Should companies worry that if one employee works from home, everyone else will want to?
Not everyone has a job that can be done from home, and not everybody wants to work from home, Harnish says. After that, why not let whoever wants to try it? If a company starts a program, they need uniform guidelines for all at-home workers -- for example, requiring that all employees have a dedicated home office and make child care arrangements if they have small children. Working from home isn't the only type of flexible schedule: Companies also can offer flexible or part-time hours, or a compressed workweek.
Are flexible schedules good only for certain jobs?
Working remotely crosses all types of jobs and salary ranges. The average teleworker is male, around 40 and a college graduate in a knowledge worker job, according to the Telework 2011 report from WorldatWork, a human resources trade group. Some companies have instituted flexible schedules for jobs that pay by the hour. The call center industry, which pays at the low end of the wage scale, is a leader in virtual employment, Harnish says, with some employing thousands of workers who are hired, trained and managed 100 percent remotely.
How do you know if you'd be successful working from home?
You've got to be a self-confident self-starter who isn't easily pulled away from the task at hand because the grass needs mowing, Harnish says. It helps to be tech-savvy because the IT department isn't there to fix your computer problems, though that's not the issue it used to be thanks to virtual networks that more companies use. The biggest problem for employees who telecommute is overwork, he says. "We interviewed one guy for the book who drove his car around the block to signal the end of the workday."
Resources: Learn more about flexible work schedules from:
- An online self-assessment to see if you're the telework type
- Sample documents including a telework contract
- Telecommuting advocacy groups and other resources
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