Five steps for negotiating flexible work arrangements

Following last week’s finding that only 11% of working mothers are satisfied with their flexible working arrangement, many mothers are asking themselves how they can ‘be so lucky’ to be amongst those who are actually happy with their flexible work situation. 

The truth is that success with flexible working arrangements is less about luck, and more about how you ask. Of you want satisfying, or indeed more satisfying, flexible work arrangements, here is a best practice guide for negotiating them:

Step 1: Actually ask

A recent study showed that despite nearly 80% of the population believing that they could benefit from flexible work, many were too afraid to ask for it due to the fear of how they would be perceived.

Rarely will organisations expressly offer flexible working arrangements, so the first step in arranging them is overcoming your fear of being perceived as ‘less committed’ or ‘slack’ and mustering the courage to ask. 

For mums returning after maternity leave, the ‘double whammy’ of returning to work and trying to negotiate flexible work arrangements can be particularly daunting.  However, if you are in this situation it is always in your best interest to try and negotiate such an arrangement prior to returning to work. This is because if you try to ‘see how the first few months go’ and then your performance suffers as a result, you will be far less likely to be successful in any future negotiations. 

Step 2: Know your rights 

Before you try to negotiate flexible working arrangements, you need to know what you can ask for. Knowing your rights, both in terms of your organisation’s policy and the law (information available via Fair Work Australia) is crucial in establishing what may be available to you, and your chances of getting it.

Step 3: Leverage the success of others

Although the benefits of flexible work are extensively documented, some managers/organisations are just not able to believe it until they see it.  Thus, arm yourself with several real-life examples of successful flexible working, ideally within your organisation, but at the very least, in your job role/or within your industry.  This will demonstrate to others that not only can flexible work work, but that it can work for you.

Step 4: Prepare your business case

There’s no point approaching your manager and saying, ‘I need to work flexibly because of my childcare commitments.’ While this may be true, your request for flexible work should be about how your situation can benefit the organisation, not just about you. With that in mind, here’s a few tips for preparing and presenting a killer business case for flexible work:

•      Have your best practice examples at the ready and be familiar with the benefits of flexible working.

•      Prepare answers to any potential objections you feel may arise, such as how you will remain contactable, how you will manage your workload, etc.

•      Utilise your performance to your advantage (if it has been good!). For example, state that: ‘I have already proven that I achieve more than what is required of me, and I know I can continue in this vein, regardless of my work location.’ Even if you are returning to work after maternity leave, it is still ok to leverage your past performance – after all, your ability to do your job hasn’t changed, you are simply seeking a more flexible arrangement.   

•      Plan a catch up with your manager at a convenient time – you will be far more likely to achieve success if they have the time and energy to consider your proposal.

Step 5: Have a back-up plan

If your request to work flexibly is denied, then it is a good idea to have a back-up plan – or two. Firstly, if your request to work flexibly full-time or work part-time is refused, consider asking your organisation whether they will consider a job-share arrangement.  

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, if your organisation is one of many in Australia that is yet to embrace flexible work, consider moving to an organisation that does, such as Telstra, ANZ, Grant Thornton for example.

Want to work flexibly? Working Mother’s Connect provides you with a myriad of options for doing just that, either through helping you to start your own business with Mumpreneurs Connect, or connecting you with organisations who embrace flexibility.

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