You love your job. Your work is rewarding. You even feel recognized and supported by your boss. There’s just one problem: Your company is still fixated on the old 9-to-5 routine of the The Flintstones and you’re, well, looking for a little more of the work flexibility and autonomy of Silicon Valley.
While companies that offer things like flexible work schedules and working from home are all the rage and get abundant press and publicity, the truth is, only a minority of companies officially offer or deliver on these benefits, which means you may just have to get bold about making these opportunities for yourself.
If you find yourself in a company that you love that doesn’t have the flexibility you crave, here are some strategies for making work work for you.
When flexibility is against company policy...
It’s hard to go first, there’s no two ways about it. But everyone loves a trailblazer, and we’re partial to asking your manager and HR department for what you need to be successful. In good news, there are plenty of examples where simply asking for what you want has been an effective strategy for women getting increased flexibility at work.
Here’s what one lobbyist in DC told us about how she approached her company about working from home regularly and what happened.
“I proposed that I do [work from home] every other Friday. Since we rarely have meetings on Fridays and I have lots of reading and writing to do, it really seemed to make sense. Although there was no precedent, the firm agreed and it’s been a successful arrangement. I look forward to that day to take care of work that requires my undivided attention.”
It didn’t hurt that our lobbyist was, ahem, a lobbyist, and probably rather skilled at negotiating. It also didn’t hurt that she had been at the company for three years with a proven track record of performance. Some conditions like tenure, performance, and practice will certainly help increase the chances that you get a favorable response when you ask a company to try something new. But the truth is, you can ask for the benefits you want at any time in your employee / employer relationship. In fact, here’s an article that covers negotiating benefits before you even take the job.
Pro tip: Put yourself in your employer’s shoes. Propose a situation that’s win-win or at the very least is net neutral. Suggesting a trial run of 60 or 90 days to see how it goes lowers the commitment and risk level for your employer. Once you hear yes, make sure to communicate with other members of your team so everyone knows about your new schedule. The more process and communication you bring to the table the better the impression you’ll make.
When flexibility is just culturally frowned upon...
There are often informal “rules” at companies that we’re frankly all ready to move beyond, and many of them relate to schedule flexibility. Take that game of who can be the last person in the office, for example. Most of the time, it’s not based on a company policy or a formal requirement, rather it’s merely the product of the examples colleagues have set for one another and the behaviors that have been reinforced.
If you find yourself in a situation where it’s just not culturally acceptable to leave work early or make time for non-work priorities during the day, the healthiest thing you can do for yourself and for others is to break the mold. Some people are in a stronger position than others to pave the way, like managers, tenured employees, and top performers, for example. If you’re in one of these positions, please, lead by example and take the time you need to tend to personal matters. You have the power to show that performance doesn’t have to go hand-in-hand with being the first in and the last to leave, and your team will thank you for it.
And as part of setting a new example, you can also push for performance to be measured on, well, performance, rather than hours butts spend in seats.
“To promote work/life balance in my office, we are experimenting with a policy that focuses more on productivity, results, and availability and less on in the office face time,” said Melvina Ford Executive Director, Equal Rights Center. “It's a difficult shift to make, because it requires getting everyone on staff to focus on proper planning and being accountable. Not everyone can work this way, but, for those who can, the pay off in flexibility is great!”
Pro Tip: Build a diverse base of support for making flexibility both official and practiced. Develop a focus group with representation across the organization to explore ideas, gain buy-in, and share responsibility for encouraging greater work/life integration. As behaviors shift and people begin to understand that great performance comes from great employees full stop, you’ll have an easier time pushing for changes to official policy.
And to all our HR folks and executives reading this, there’s a plethora of literature out there that make the business case for policies that support work-life balance. You know what you need to do.
If work/life integration is paramount to you, find companies that offer the greatest options to create it on InHerSight where hundreds of thousands of women have shared employee reviews... and while you are there, rate your company to help other women who are searching.
Catherine Robinson is a certified coach, leadership consultant, and champion of women in the workplace. Ready to find your path? Connect with her at Robinson Leadership Coaching .