Building Your Case For Workplace Flexibility


Flexible hours in the office can increase job satisfaction and reduce stress, but if your manager needs more convincing, Grace Papers is on hand to provide advice and support.

Having flexibility over when and where you work can make you feel more engaged, efficient and productive - professionally and personally.

Forbes recently published the results of what is believed to be the first randomised control trial into workplace flexibility, conducted inside an American Fortune 500 company. The study found that employees who were placed on a flexibility program were happier at work and less prone to burnout than their colleagues who stayed in the office, working traditional office hours.

The study adds to a growing body of research which shows that, when workers have a say over the hours and location of their work, they are not only able to do their jobs more efficiently but are also able to successfully manage their lives outside of work.

This balance may be enviable, but it’s certainly not unachievable.

Overcome the flexibility stigma

Overcoming the stigma around flexible working is one of the first hurdles you’re likely to face. In a culture of presenteeism, this stigma comes from the misconception that those who request to work flexibly are less committed than those who don’t.

This stigma has real life consequences: around 70% of Australian workers believe flexible working programs could help them achieve a better work-life balance, but 32% have never asked for fear that it would prevent them from being promoted.

It’s this same stigma that prevents the majority of carers, primarily women, from being promoted to senior roles, and sees 30% of women ‘opt out’ of the workforce either while pregnant or after taking parental leave.

This stigma doesn’t just affect women, either. Nearly 60% of working fathers say they would like to work part-time provided they could also have a meaningful career, yet men’s requests for flexibility in the workplace are even more likely to be declined than women’s.

Being able to acknowledge, dismantle and overcome this stigma is the first step towards being able to establish a flexible working arrangement that suits your family, your employer, and your own needs.

Talking through opportunities for flexible working arrangements can be a nervewracking conversation to have with your manager, especially if your employer doesn’t have a flexible working policy in place. But the old adage is true: if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

It’s worth putting aside some time to think about how you want the conversation to go, and what you’d like to get out of it. These four questions are likely to be top of your manager’s mind, and should form the basis of your business case:

How to get the flexibility you need at work

1. What’s the upside for the business?

Having more control over the hours you work and where you work them sounds great, but what benefits will it bring to the business? How will this arrangement bring value to your role? Have three or four key benefits in mind, and come back to them throughout the conversation.

2. How can you express ambition with your request?

Use your professional vision (see p.11) to be up front about your career goals and how your proposal for flexible working fits into this trajectory. There’s nothing like an expression of ambition to confuse the biases your boss holds! Just 6.3% of all managers work parttime, so it’s vital you demonstrate your commitment to the business and ongoing or future projects by showing you’ve considered how a flexible work arrangement will work in the long term.

3. How will flexible working impact those you work with and for?

Flexible working will have different impacts on the people around you, depending on whether you are interested in being able to work from home or would like to change your current hours of work. Your manager is likely to be thinking about the implications of your proposal for colleagues, customers, stakeholders and the business more widely, so your business case should address these concerns. Before going into the discussion, you should also map your stakeholders’ biases towards flexible working. No two managers are born equal, but by being prepared you can call out the “benevolent bias” offered your way.

4. What solutions can you present to overcome foreseeable hurdles?

Think through some of the potential barriers to you and your manager coming to a successful flexible working arrangement, and how you can acknowledge any resistance to your proposal. Focus on how the job can be redesigned to reflect the fact that it no longer a full-time role, and be ready to come to the table with solutions that could work for your workplace and those you work with.

With some preparation, a solid business case and an open mind, you may just be one conversation away from establishing a flexible working arrangement that meets the needs of you, your family and your employer.