Benefits of Working Flex Time: Where to find it, how to get it
You can't open the business section these days without seeing a story on companies that let employees work when and where they want. It's good for morale, great for the bottom line, and with any luck, the wave of the future. All well and good for the country's millions of flextime and telecommuting workers. But what if you, too, want to be there when your kids get home from school or would love Fridays off to pursue your side business? How do you find the flex-friendly companies, and while we're at it, how do you convince your current employer to cut you a piece of the flexibility pie? How can you enjoy the benefits of working flex time?
Targeting flex-friendly employers
It doesn't matter how open-minded your employer is-if your job can't be done off company premises or outside "normal" business hours, you don't stand a chance of getting to enjoy the benefits of working flex time. But for the sake of argument, let's assume a little flexibility wouldn't compromise your getting the job done. So how do you spot a flex-friendly employer?
Read the headlines. Obviously, if a company you have your eye on makes the Working Mother Top 100 annual list, it's cause to celebrate. Ditto for companies that prominently feature press releases and media coverage singing the praises of their work/life balance programs. "Employers who have something to brag about usually do," says Pat Katepoo of WorkOptions.com, who's been consulting hopeful flex workers for 14 years. But don't stop at corporate propaganda. Pay attention to the local headlines and see what dirt a Google search turns up, too.
Get references. Use your personal network, professional memberships, and social networking sites such as LinkedIn to track down current employees of your target companies and see what information you can glean. Katepoo also suggests contacting your local chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and asking what companies in your neck of the woods offer flex packages-and how their employees rate them.
Check the company culture. Once you're on site for a job interview, play detective. Unless you get a job offer, avoid asking the hiring manager about company hours and the possibility of flex work. Instead, see how many cars remain in the company parking lot after 6 p.m. and how many of your potential co-workers have pictures of their kids on their desks. After the interview, ask to talk to some of your potential colleagues. Sniff out who has a flexible arrangement and how it's going for them.
Negotiating a flex arrangement
Unless you're in an industry or company where telecommuting and setting your own schedule are the norm, resist the urge to ask for the benefit of working flex time or to work from home right away. Doing so could make your boss wonder if she has a Grade A slacker on her hands. As the department rookie, your mission is to prove to your boss that hiring you was a brilliant move.
Coaches like Katepoo advise spending the next year or two earning your boss's trust before waging a campaign for flex work. (Really.) Some rules of thumb:
Timing is everything. As in, if you hear rumblings about layoffs, don't ask for the keys to the kingdom. On the flip side, your annual review is an excellent time to broach the subject. And if the boss won't give you the raise you want, suggest a flex work situation.
Put it in writing. Decide exactly what you want-a compressed workweek, an earlier start time, two telecommuting days a week? Then make a business case for it on paper. That is, clearly outline how you will get your job done and how the arrangement will benefit the company, not you. (Note: "I'm exhausted running from work to my kids' daycare each day" is not a business case.) If you need help crafting a proposal, see the nominally priced templates on WorkOptions.com and WorkFamily.com.
Suggest a trial period. Offer to wade in slowly. Rather than ask to telecommute Mondays through Fridays, suggest trying one or two days a week. Also suggest weighing how the arrangement's working for you and your boss a few weeks or couple months down the line. The more comfortable you can make him with the idea, the greater your chances of sealing the deal.
Michelle Goodman, author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. Her articles and essays also appear in Salon, Bust, Bitch, Bark, and the Seattle Times. She regularly blogs about career change and self-employment at www.anti9to5guide.com.