How to Ask for (and Get) More Flexibility at Work

flexible schedule

According to a recent study, there is a looming gap between the number of employees who claim they value and desire flexibility in the workplace and the overall percentage of workers who say they actually have this flexibility. Harvard Business Review reports that the “flexibility gap” (the number of employees who want flexibility versus those who have it) is around 54%. Broken down even further, they report that 96% of white-collar American workers want flexibility in the workplace, yet only 47% report having some flexibility.

And, according to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018, flexible workplaces are one of the most important factors for millennials and Gen Z employees when considering to stay with an employer. In fact, positive workplace culture, which includes flexible work options, as their highest priority.

But how is workplace flexibility defined? Jobs that offer one or some of the following perks and benefits are generally thought to be “flexible”:

  • The ability to work non-traditional hours based on the employee’s needs or lifestyle
  • The freedom to stop working for a few hours as needed and make up those hours at another time
  • Can work some of the time out of the office
  • Can work 100% remote
  • Minimal or no travel required for work
  • The option to work a part-time schedule

But, if you identify with the 47% of the population who wants more flexibility but doesn’t currently have it, what’s the best way to approach your employer and ask for flexible options?

Be specific in your ask

When you come to your employer with the request, don’t simply say “I want more flexibility” and then wait to see what, if anything, they offer. Know ahead of time exactly what you need and craft your proposal to be as specific as possible. It may also be wise to be prepared with a second option or “back-up” offer so if your initial request is denied, you still have something to negotiate on. For example, if your request to work from home every day is turned down, you can counter by proposing to work remotely for only 2-3 days a week and promising to be in the office for all important face-to-face meetings.

Don’t ask for the impossible

Don’t waste your time or your employer’s time by asking to work remotely if you know that this wouldn’t work for your position or that your organization is opposed to this type of schedule. Request the kind of flexibility that you need to be happier or more productive but that’s also a realistic accommodation for your employer.

Highlight the benefits

Will a flexible schedule or workplace help you to be more productive? Will it give you time to take on more responsibility or tasks? Perhaps the most important part of the discussion around getting more flexibility at work is highlighting the benefits this will provide to your employer, boss or colleagues. After asking for the specific kind of flexibility you want, immediately explain how this would lead to better outcomes at work.

Explain why you want this flexibility

After you’ve listed how a more flexible approach will benefit your employer, you also can explain why you want this flexibility and why it’s so important to you. Are you looking for a reduced commute each week? Or more freedom to set your own hours so that you can accomplish your quarterly or yearly goals? Do you need some time away from the distractions of a busy or noisy office to concentrate on research or complete a project? You shouldn’t ask for more flexibility just for its own sake -- lay out clear, valid reasons why flexibility is important to you personally and the positive difference it will make in your personal and professional life.

Provide a roadmap of accountability

Reassure your boss and colleagues that you’ll still be ‘connected’ and available even if you’re working remotely. Lay out exactly when and how you’ll communicate your progress or collaborate while you’re out of the office. If you experience any push-back or concern from your boss about how this might affect your availability or productivity levels, consider presenting a “trial period” with your new flexible hours or workplace for a few months before asking to commit to it as a long-term arrangement. Of course, you’ll want to use that trial period to prove how productive and successful you can be with a flexible schedule.

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