Throughout February I’ve been focusing on various aspects of flexible working since it’s a key tool for many in their search for better balance. One of the most complex aspects seems to be negotiating a flexible schedule that suits both you and your employer. In this post as the month closes I’m sharing ten tips for success.
- Be very clear on your business case from the outset. Spend some time thinking about the tangible (i.e. costs and time) benefits and the less tangible ones (e.g. improved productivity when you’re living a more balanced life).
- Identify the flexible arrangement that’s most suitable for your needs and the type of job you have. If you need help to do this you can download my free workbook. Aim for some flexibility in your thinking rather than being rigid in your requirements from the outset (I recognise this can be difficult if external childcare arrangements are involved). This will give you some ‘wiggle room’ if your manager rejects your initial request as unworkable.
- But don’t fall into the trap of being too flexible in your efforts to show how grateful you are that your request has been granted. Without boundaries around your flexible working agreement you risk finding yourself always available for work while your new arrangement slowly erodes beneath you.
- Do some research before you start negotiating. In most organisations there’s plenty going on under the radar. Identifying allies who can support you in your quest for flexibility and role models who are pioneering change will make you confident you have a strong case.
- Focus on the positive. Your initial request may be met with a negative response. It’s easy to get defensive and the situation quickly spirals downwards. Instead ask positive questions that help you and your manager explore possibilities. What would balanced working look like? Not just for you but also for your entire team and your manager. What would need to happen for that to become a reality?
- Keep in mind that any negotiation is a series of small steps. Gradual change with minimal impact on the lives of those around you is easier to implement. Small steps stop you feeling overwhelmed; and mean you can make adjustments as you go along – so you’re always course correcting towards success.
- Recognise it’s down to you. The combination of your job role and your life circumstances makes your situation unique. So you’ll have to take charge, figure out what you need, connect with your power and find the confidence to go for it.
- Recognise you’re likely to be a pioneer – which may bring up challenges for you. If you’ve lined up those role models and champions; and if you’re clear on your business case you’ll find more confidence to step into this leadership role.
- Trust yourself. You’ve got this. You’re a better negotiator than you think you are. Relax, be more playfuland explore the options open to you. Finding balance is a journey not a destination.
- Good luck – you’re ready to go. And if you find you need further support from me check out my new VIP day coaching offer.
I trust you’ll find these steps a useful summary. I’ll be writing more on some of these topics in the coming months as we continue our journey to #rebalance 2020.
The same technologies that have enabled people to combine work with caring responsibilities are increasingly blurring the boundaries between the two – with negative consequences for our health and well-being.
There was a time – although it’s hard to remember now – when we had a clear separation between work and other aspects of our lives. Towards the end of the last century things began to change as employers increasingly offered ‘flexible working’ schedules. Initially driven by family friendly policies, flexible working is still seen as the panacea for parents who want to combine work with family. As more and more mothers return from maternity leave the demand for flexible schedules continues to rise. At the same time many employers are re-branding their arrangements as agile – allowing work to be carried out any time, any where.
In reality many of us are feeling pushed to work all the time and everywhere. This is leading to the growth of an #AlwaysOn culture and the consequent negative impact on well-being. Mothers in particular are often so grateful for the ‘concession’ of being able to work flexibly they routinely blur their boundaries. It’s their way of showing commitment to career while trying to meet the high standards demanded of them as parents. The result – as Dr Christine Grant has found – is women exhausted by the triple shift of work then childcare followed by more work once children are asleep. A further risk – identified by Professor Ellen Ernst Kossek – is that blurred boundaries can lead to ‘job creep’ resulting in overwork. As we all know work expands to fill the hours we devote to it!
My point here is to remind you that #AlwaysOn working is not balanced working and should not be confused with well managed flexible working.
How do we make sure our flexible arrangement results in balanced working?
I’ve already written about boundaries earlier this year since boundary management is – in the words of Professor Ernst Kossek – an essential competency for personal and life effectiveness. As an aside, she maintains that effectively managing boundaries not only improves your work-life balance but can also help you be more effective as a leader who manages others.
While the way we set and manage boundaries comes down to personal preference, making a start by putting in some micro-boundaries is likely to improve most people’s work-life balance. Creating those micro-boundaries is down to you. Research has shown that less than half of UK workplaces offer employees any guidance on managing #AlwaysOn technology; and even fewer have a work-life balance policy.
Maintaining boundaries requires mindfulness and self-responsibility. It’s all too easy to fall prey to workplace cultural expectations that say we must always be available to colleagues. And, of course, there are our own expectations that we must be seen to be ‘flexible’ (i.e. always responsive) as our part of the employment bargain. Getting into this frame of mind risks compromising our health and well-being, as well as our relationships with the important people in our lives.
As we work to #rebalance in 2020, let’s drop the guilt and cultivate a belief that to be our best selves and do our best work we’re entitled to a balanced life.
Let’s say you want to work more flexibly to support a more balanced life; and your employer has both a policy and a culture that supports flexible working (or agile working as it’s increasingly being called). Let’s also say that your supportive manager is very happy for you to work a flexible arrangement; so responds positively when you raise the possibility.
So far, so good; and you may be lulled into thinking ‘job done, I’ll start working differently next week’.
If only it was that simple.
Unfortunately, in many organisations employees are being left to work out their new arrangements by themselves – which often results in #AlwaysOn working rather than a balanced arrangement. I’m planning to write more on the risks of #AlwaysOn later in the month, but for now I want to talk about why crafting a balanced arrangement is down to you.
- The right arrangement will support better balance – generating a feeling of enrichment rather than conflict between the various parts of your life. If you’re working at a manager level finding that arrangement will be down to you. It’s a combination of your specific needs, the key tasks required of you and the skills you bring to the job. All of these variables are likely to change as you progress through your life and your career. The time you spend developing and negotiating the arrangement that suits you best will pay dividends. By focusing on where you can make your biggest contributions you’ll be working more efficiently while still feeling your life is in balance. If you’re unsure of how to go about this, download my free workbook to guide you.
- Jobs change so why not actively change yours for the better? In our fast paced world the nature and content of jobs can change rapidly in response to (for example) customer demands or technological developments. Ideally, all employers would have a mechanism in place for reviewing the content of job descriptions at regular intervals. In my experience this rarely happens. Even where a job vacancy arises the temptation is to simply re-recruit into the existing description. The result can be a role where you find yourself ‘sweating the small stuff’; feeling unfulfilled as you battle with those tasks that make little use of your best skills while taking up the bulk of your working time. In addition developments in AI and its applications to workplace activities mean it’s likely your job will be impacted sooner or later. If technology is being used to make your work more productive this could be the moment to restructure your working arrangement for better balance as well.
3.You’ll be in good company (or at least one of many). There’s plenty of evidence to suggest people regularly and actively restructure their roles to better suit their needs. According to the research they’re likely to take one of three approaches:
- Negotiating an idiosyncratic or ‘i-deal’ based on individualised employment conditions. Specifically, research has revealed the use of i-deals as a way of reducing work-life conflict. If you’re interested in agreeing an i-deal take a look at the work of Professor Denise Rousseau from Carnegie Mellon University.
- Through job crafting. In this approach people make small adjustments to their working practices or work arrangements with the intention of improving job satisfaction. The key researcher here is Professor Amy Wrzesniewskibased at the Yale School of Management.
- Agreeing a ‘reduced load’ schedule that enables a managerial or professional employee to keep her feet on the career ladder while working a less than full time arrangement. Professor Ellen Ernst Kossekat Purdue University is currently researching this approach.
Once you’re clear on your preferred working arrangement it’s likely you’ll need to negotiate with the people around you. I’ll be sharing insights into this later in the month.
At the end of last year the UK government turned the discussion about flexible working on its head. The Queen’s speech in December 2019 promised legislation to make flexible working the default position for all employees.
When I began campaigning for flexible working 25 years ago a positive business case was essential. Employers assumed a detriment and viewed flexibility as a concession for employees unable to work standard hours. Things have moved on since then. Increasing numbers of UK employees now have a legal right to request flexible working..
Evidence of the benefits that flexible working brings to employers has been accumulating. Flexible and reduced hours workers have been found to be as (and sometimes more) productive as their colleagues working standard arrangements. There has been a growing awareness of the large number of people forced to work below their skills levelin an effort to find flexibility; of mothers holding back from promotionbecause of concerns about work-life balance; and most recently of the enormous benefits that advertising all roles as flexible can bring in terms of attracting a more diverse range of applicants.
Despite this wealth of evidence some employers – and more pertinently some individual managers – remain sceptical. In my book I suggest you can be most persuasive when you develop your personal business case; and that you should think about it at three levels:
- The personal. What’s in it for your manager (and perhaps your team)? The obvious answer here is the resources he or she will lose if your health suffers and you begin to under-perform. If you feel you simply cannot continue in your current arrangement and resign there will also be a financial loss to your employer. Typically this will be the cost of recruiting your replacement and getting her up to speed. And don’t underestimate how much internal knowledge (about “how things are done around here”) you’ve accumulated.
- The wider organisational business case. This is represented by the ways in which your employer benefits from supporting women to progress into senior management.
- The external (PR) level. I’ve discovered that most employers value the kudos associated with an external award (such as Best Employer for Women or Best Employer for Working Families). At the external level there is also an increasing realisation that the internal setup should mirror the marketplace in which your employer operates. So, for example lawyers have told me they would not be received well if they sent a team to a potential client and the team comprised solely of white men.
If you need more clarity around developing your own business case I’ve prepared a free workbook which you can access here.
Along with building your business case goes a mind-set of feeling entitled to flexible working – especially where the latter is part of your strategy for reducing work-life conflict. Knowing that you’re entitled to live a balanced life will give you the courage to ask.
Once you’re clear on how flexible working benefits both you and your employer the next step is to work out what sort of arrangement best suits your needs. Join me next week when I’ll be writing about how to #upcycle your job (and why you should).