4 Steps For Millennials To Ask For Workplace Flexibility

More than any other generation, millennials say they want flexibility in how and where their work is conducted. Yet so few of us actually have it. So how does one go about getting a flexible work arrangement? We checked in with several top human resource experts for their advice on how to get your flex on. Here’s what they said:

Do Your Research

The first step to proposing a work-flex arrangement is to research what, if any, existing programs your company offers. Keep in mind that sometimes work-flex isn’t done companywide, but in departments or groups, and even if your company doesn’t have an official policy, chances are someone there has a work-flex arrangement.

Talk to your peers and find out if anyone else in the company has a flexible work arrangement. “As best you can, find where it’s working with someone who’s known within the company as being an excellent employee,” says Jon Decoteau, former Human Resources director for eBay, The Coca-Cola Company, Motorola and Nissan. “Ideally, someone who’s working a flexible schedule whose supervisor is a peer of your supervisor.”

If flexibility isn’t common at your company, find out what other companies in your area do have flexible work options, including your company’s competition, and what those policies are. “If a company really wants to get the best talent they have to differentiate themselves,” says Barbara Bell-Dees, Vice President of Human Resources & People Services at NASCO, LLC.

Gathering statistics will also help your cause. “There is research out there that shows that people who are working flexible schedules, whether they’re telecommuting or working a modified work schedule, have higher levels of engagement, lower absenteeism and they actually produce more (i.e. they work longer hours) than people who don’t,” says Decoteau. 

Make A Plan

There are several different work-flex options used by many companies, including remote working, flexible core hours, job sharing, sabbaticals, educational leave, and more. As you weigh your options and needs, ask yourself which one of these options might work best for you.

Another thing to consider is your company’s technology roadmap. “If the building blew up, could the work get done from a technical perspective?” asks Bell-Dees. “Does it have conference call capability, web-x capability, laptops, webcams, etc.? You have to have internal systems set up that would support having a remote workforce, or having that option.”

Remember that not all work-flex options work with every industry. For example, if you work in an environment where your physical presence is necessary (manufacturing, fast food, retail, agriculture, to name a few), working remotely probably isn’t an option. However, flexible core hours might be.

Finally, take into consideration how long you’ve been at the company. “If you’re in a very conservative company,” says Decoteau, “you’ll probably want to wait a good eight months to a year. If you’re at a moving-fast kind of company that tends to be more sales or marketing, I think you can have a conversation like this within six months.”

Approach Your Supervisor Or Human Resources Rep

Whether to go to your supervisor or HR rep first depends on your company culture, but eventually the human resources department will have to be involved.

When you do have that conversation, it helps to come from a place of strength. “If you’re an employee who is just okay, or struggling with performance, it will be very difficult to get a flexible work arrangement. If you’re a good employee and you’re performing well, and you’ve got good relationships, it will be easier to do. At the end of the day, to some extent, this is about trust,” says Decoteau. So before you ask for flexibility, make sure you’re doing a great job and that everyone knows it.

When pitching the idea, keep the company’s bigger picture in mind. Your proposal “needs to be beneficial to the organization, as well as the individual,” says Dianna Gould, Field Services Director, Pacific West Region at the Society for Human Resource Management. “It’s not just a perk or a benefit. There’s a business reason for doing it, and if you approach it from that standpoint, that’s really a lot harder to argue.”

Dave Ryan, the HR exec at Mel-O-Cream Donuts, suggests that you offer a way of staying accountable and assuring your supervisor that you’ll continue to meet his/her expectations. “Your employer is going to want some measurable productivity standards,” says Ryan. He also suggests that you offer to do the new arrangement on a trial basis and to reassess how it’s working for both you and your supervisor after a few months.

Be Positive And Try it Out

Asking is the most important step, but what happens if you encounter resistance? Dianne Gould suggests approaching your supervisor like you would a mentor, coach or leader. Show that you want them to be successful as a manager by saying, “I’m sure there are some questions and concerns that you might have since the company (or department) has never done this before. So, I have a list of resources here.”

Most importantly, be positive. “Don’t walk into the meeting thinking that your boss is predisposed to say no,” says Decoteau. “Assume good intent. Assume resistance to be legitimate concerns and just overcome those one at a time. At the end of the day, you both want to make this work.”

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The new nonprofit OpenWork seeks to inspire companies to continuously improve how, when, and where work is done for the mutual benefit of employees and employers. Learn more about companies designing forward-thinking workplaces at OpenWork.org.