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  • Writer's pictureScott Behson

Negotiating for Work Flexibility (part 3): Fairness Concerns

Why Bosses Say “No” to Flexible Work Arrangements (and what you can do about it).

Part 3 of a Series: They Have the Wrong Idea about Fairness

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).

No one documents bad supervision better than Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

It is brave to stand out and make a case for a time and place flexibility for your work.  However, it is not 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 (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.

In the past few weeks, I’ve written about two major reasons why supervisors may resist flexible work arrangements- they may believe they’ll lose the ability to monitor and assess your performance, and they don’t know enough about the benefits/frequency of telework .

In this piece, I’ll discuss a third major reason why supervisors may resist more flexible work arrangements- Fairness Concerns– along with some ways you may be able to address them.

There are many ways to define fairness (see this Time magazine article):

  1. Everyone is treated the same

  2. Everyone gets outcomes depending on their contributions

  3. Decision-making processes are fair, even if outcomes for employees differ

For many supervisors, being fair means treating all employees the same. It’s easy for the manager and easy for employees to understand. However, this is probably not the best way for managers to be fair.

A better approach combines the second and third bullet points above- all employees are treated with equal respect and an unbiased decision-making process, but then get individualized treatment based on their contributions, needs, and built-up trustworthiness.

Essentially, when requesting an alternative work arrangement, you are asking for individualized consideration. So how can we nudge our supervisors away from the first definition of fairness to something more nuanced and flexible?

  1. Be indispensible, and make sure (in a non-obnoxious way) that the supervisor knows how indispensible you are, before you ask for “special treatment”

  2. Suggest something in return for your individualized arrangement

  3. Such as the performance-management system, performance goals and measures, time-logs, and commitments to certain availability that I suggested here. You could even volunteer for extra assignments, or at go out of your way to make your supervisor’s job easier

  4. Assure your boss that you are requesting a temporary, trial arrangement, and that continuation depends on continued top performance

A related fairness concern of supervisors is that they fear if they give a special arrangement for you, then soon everyone will make similar requests. By making sure to document (a) how great an employee you are, and (b) all the strings attached to the deal (documentation, assurances, performance standards, etc.), you have now given your supervisor:

  1. a process to make decisions regarding flexible work arrangements

  2. information to help your supervisor advise employees how they can qualify for an arrangement, and

  3. a way to explain their decision when potentially denying other requests

In short, you need to make it easier for your supervisor to say yes to your request without upsetting his/her idea of fairness.

The next and final post in this series will suggest the elements that could be part of a “temporary alternative work arrangement contract” we can use when making such requests.

A major source for this series of posts is the book, Working Fathers, by Levine and Pittinsky, which is full of great advice for fathers as they attempt to better balance work and family demands.

What do you think? Any experiences relating to this topic? 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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