A new generation of employees is demanding increased flexibility in how they manage their time on the job. Flexible hours, telecommuting, job shares and part-time work are all growing in popularity. These are trends that many employers embrace, but they are driven by workers, says Sara Sutton Fell, chief executive and founder of FlexJobs, which connects professionals with such work.
"More employers require employees to work extended hours, so it's only natural that employees are looking for ways to make this situation work for them, too," Fell says. "As more people seek work-life balance, and priorities continue to lean toward having rewarding work and personal lives, more people will seek out flexible work, which allows for both without sacrificing one for the other — as was the case for so long."
Members of Generation Y like to have control over their time, and it seems they are driving much of this phenomenon. According to Mom Corps, another staffing service specializing in alternative work schedules, 37 percent of this group would take a pay cut if it meant more job flexibility. Further, a recent Corporate Leadership Council study surveyed 160,000 workers of all ages and found that more than 60 percent rank flexible schedules as the most important work-life benefit a company can provide.
Simultaneously, the rise of sophisticated technology such as email, smartphones, tablets and video conferencing facilitates these trends, and employers have had no choice but to follow — in most cases to much success. In fact, the Corporate Leadership Council found that employees who feel they have more control over their time work 21 percent harder than their peers and were 33 percent less likely to leave their organizations. Employers can directly benefit from these situations. Businesses may no longer have to pay for health insurance when workers go part time, and they can save on technology and other overhead expenses when employees shift their work hours away from the office to home. But Fell says that many remain skeptical that they can trust their employees to remain equally productive once they leave the confines of the workplace. Another uncertainty is whether or not the lines of communication will be as open.
How to approach your boss
Pat Katepoo consults individuals on flexible work situations through her firm, WorkOptions.com. When approaching your boss about changing your current position into a part-time or telecommuting arrangement, she says to consider taking these steps:
• Map out a strategy that meets both your needs and your employer's. Create a detailed proposal for your suggested arrangement.
• Start by answering your manager's first question: How will your job get done under the alternative arrangement?
• Skip the personal "why" behind the request. Focus on the business case instead.
• Refer to flexible work arrangements as a business strategy. Note the bottom-line benefits, such as increased productivity and retention, fewer absences and higher engagement.
• Make an appointment with your manager to present and discuss your request.
• Practice what you'll say.
• Prepare to address concerns about productivity and communication.
• Be open to suggestions about a new arrangement. Feel free to ask for time to think about it.
How to succeed and thrive
Got the schedule you craved? Consider these tips for succeeding in your new arrangement:
Get it in writing. Secure a memo of agreement for the arrangement to ensure your flexibility in the event your manager moves on, Katepoo suggests.
Evaluate. Arrange with your manager to evaluate the new arrangement during the initial three months. Adjust as necessary and report your progress.
Don't be a lazy communicator. Do not rely exclusively on email to stay on top of things. Participate in regular check-in meetings, pick up the phone from time to time if you have a question, and speak up and engage whenever you can. Old-fashioned communication assures your boss that you are still connected and available while boosting your chances of success in the position. One 2007 study by Korn/Ferry International found that telecommuters were less likely to get promotions than their in-office peers were.
Be reliable and professional. "This may sound obvious, but it's uber-important!" Fell says. "In my experience, this is one of the biggest and easiest pitfalls for working parents to fall into, and it can do lasting damage. All it takes is one unexpected call from your boss or colleague with your child crying in the background, or when you're in the car with the radio on coming back from an errand, and your credibility is shot — likely for good."
Stay flexible yourself. "Be willing to adjust your schedule for the short-term for a special situation or project," Katepoo says.