Five tips to ask for flexibility and reframe the Big work assumption: “I don’t have any flexibility”
In my talks and discussions with women, there’s a huge assumption being made: I do not have flexibility or My spouse doesn’t have flexibility. But we simply did not find this to be the case.
In our interviews, women were able to get flexibility in all sorts of creative ways. One woman negotiated a significant work-at-home deal with a pay increase. Many negotiated flex time. Others negotiated how they worked with their teams, delegating work so that they all could have more flexibility. Their spouses too were able to flex. In most cases, it was asking that was the challenge, not the flexibility.
What are so many afraid of? A rejection or worse, a ‘taint’ against their reputation that could lead to a job loss. But, isn’t that just an assumption?
What if we just reframe it?
Here are five tips you can use to reframe your “flexibility ask” and test out whether your assumption about workplace flexibility is true:
1) Benefit your manager not just you. too many people frame flexibility as a benefit to them. This puts a manager in the position of thinking why should I give flexibility to one person v. another? How can I be fair? How can I make sure the work gets done?
- Instead, put it in terms of the benefit to your manager. You could say things like: I’m finding that I struggle for thinking time. If I work at home one day, I could be more productive and creative. What are your manager’s interests? How could you frame in their interest?
- Also realize that this could be something that benefits the whole team. Maybe everyone on the team should do this to increase their productivity and creative space. Think of it as an innovation in how work gets done more effectively.
2) Understand the outputs your manager wants. Then explain how your flexibility will not impinge on these and in fact will increase the quality because you will be fully engaged when you are present. Once you are working under the new arrangement, keep your manager posted regularly about your work outcomes to illustrate that you are highly productive despite the work change.
3) Explore their concerns. What is your manager worried about? Identify these concerns and then come up with a plan to manage them. Keep your manager posted on your progress.
4) Be flexible in your flexibility. When we ask for a rigid time frame, say I’ll work 8 – 3, it introduces rigidity into the discussion. Instead, focus on what you need. Do you need to pick up your child at 3? Can you share this with your spouse? Can you do this 3 days a week instead of 5 and then the other 2, you work as others on your team?
Be sure that you are there for important meetings even if that means changing your flex days. Constant visibility is unnecessary. Prioritize your visibility and make it worthwhile.
5) Ask to try it out for six months. It’s always easier to ask for a short term arrangement that can be changed if it doesn’t work. You may find it doesn’t work for you either. If you both have a way out, and you measure it in depth, you can explore the innovation just as you would any other solution at work. The key is to measure it, show the costs and benefits, and then talk widely about it with the team so that others don’t feel left out.
When you approach flexibility as just another innovation at work rather than something you need personally, it’s more accepted and it lowers the risks. You are being creative, not increasing costs. It’s all about perspective.
And if you get flexibility, work to help others as well. Talk to HR about how to implement a policy. Coach other women. Figure out how to increase this innovation with other teams. Systematize it so that your newfound flexibility can be more easily shared by others.
© Jodi Detjen