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  • Writer's pictureScott Behson

Negotiating for Flexibility at Work: Why Bosses Say “No” to Flexible Work Arrangements (and what yo

Part 1 of a Series: They’re Bad at Evaluating Performance

Let’s face it, despite some prominent examples of companies with progressive cultures when it comes to work-family balance (see this list for examples), most company cultures and supervisors are not particularly supportive, especially of dads trying to balance work and family.  Most companies demand long work hours and promote “face time” or “time at the office” as proxy measures for performance and dedication to the company (see this article for an excellent discussion).

“So, Peter, what’s happening? Ummm, I’m gonna have to ask you to come in this weekend… That’s great. okay?”

It is brave to stand out and make a case for a time and place flexibility for your work.   However, that’s not to say that it is impossible, and, depending on your situation, it may be well worth it despite the risks.

Like any request or negotiation, the key is to see the situation from the other person’s side and then communicate so that you dispel most of their concerns and show them how they benefit from the arrangement (a la Fisher & Ury’s “Getting to Yes” or Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”).  The first step is anticipating why your supervisor may say no and proactively address these concerns (actually, the pre-first step is to make yourself extremely valuable through your job performance before you ask for any special arrangement. You need to build up credibility and trust to have any leverage here)

Here’s one major reason why supervisors may resist more flexible work arrangements, along with some ideas of how to address it (future posts in this series will address additional concerns, see below).

#1.  They may believe they’ll lose the ability to monitor and assess your performance

Aside from certain jobs in which one has to deal directly with clients for a certain time period (counselors, tutors, receptionists, etc), most professional jobs don’t need to be performed exclusively, or even mostly, at the office.  But most of us still have to be at the office most of the time during traditional working hours.

One of the reasons for this is that most supervisors are very bad at evaluating employee performance (there’s tons of research and anecdotal evidence to back this up, but that goes well beyond what can be discussed in a single blog post).  As a result, they use such indicators as “face time” or “chair time” as a measure of performance.  This, of course, is silly, as “face time” is often gamed- productive people finish and go home, political opportunists stay late while being less productive (and probably spending time on facebook or fantasy football).

The solution is “Managing Up”- the subtle art of making your supervisor a better manager (see this excellent article).  If I were to make a request for the ability to work about 1/3 of my hours from home, I’d lay out an entire performance evaluation system for my supervisor.  It would go something like this:

  1. We will set performance goals, and the objective measures we’ll use to determine whether I am meeting or exceeding those goals

  2. We will meet formally every three months to discuss my performance against those goals

  3. I will provide bi-weekly progress reports on how I am meeting those goals

  4. I will provide a weekly time log for the hours I work outside the office

  5. I will provide all my contact information to you, my coworkers, and my clients, so they can always reach me

  6. I agree that emergency situations may mean a temporary pause in the flexible work arrangement

  7. I agree that, after the first three-month trial period, we may need to re-assess the situation

This way, you address one of your supervisor’s major concerns right off the bat.  Many managers are risk-averse and dislike change.  You have to make it easier for them to say yes.

Other reasons managers may resist flexible work arrangements include: fairness concerns, they don’t want everyone to start requesting stuff, a perceived loss of control, fear of what their managers may think, not being aware of the financial benefits of flexible work arrangements, believing that “family stuff” is not a man’s issue, and the belief that they paid their dues and made sacrifices so you should too.  We’ll get to these over the next few weeks (this book contains a lot of good advice on these topics, as well).  Anything you’d add to this list?

What do you think about managing up? Requesting flexibility? Any success or horror stories?  Let’s discuss in the comments section.

This article was republished at the Good Men Project online men’s magazine.  Follow this link to the article.

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