Ask Our Boss: How Do I Ask for Flexibility Without Feeling Guilty?
In our monthly column dedicated to helping you succeed faster, our publisher Alison Rice is answering your most pressing career questions. You know, the stuff you really want to ask your boss but can’t. Have a question? Ask it on Instagram or Facebook by tagging #AskOurBoss.
This is a great question! And one I think we need to address proactively if we want to retain great talent–particularly anyone currently under 23. While I continue to see the behaviours of millennials in the workplace dissected, analysed and even mocked, Generation Z (Alpha) is set to have a bigger and perhaps more meaningful impact on workplace norms and culture.
We’re entering an era where entrepreneurship, creativity, community-based ideas and technology will be the markers of a successful business. For full-timers, I foresee a world where side hustles will be openly championed but for the majority, success will look more project based. The days of someone committing themselves to a business for life and accessing a reward milestone like long service leave are quickly diminishing. I think the challenge for employers right now is understanding how the gig economy will leverage the talent they’re currently investing in; then making positive changes to their workplace to counteract that.
That’s a big picture answer and one we should all keep in mind, but to deep dive on the question as it relates to the job you’re in today, we first need to unpack whether you feel guilty for asking for flexibility, or if your manager makes you feel guilty. Big difference.
If your manager has afforded you trust and clear entry points to work flexibly or ask for it when you need it, then quit personalising. That’s your stuff.
If you have a manager who makes it hard to ask for flexibility, then that isn’t about you. What is in your control in this scenario is observing why they make it hard, then using that knowledge to carve out a personalised approach. This is one example of managing up.
Here’s some common whys I have observed over time:
- Your manager is a new manager, and perhaps inexperienced. It could be that they literally don’t know any better, but you can help them develop in their role. It doesn’t matter what your title is or where you sit on the org chart, you can always be a leader.
- You aren’t delivering in your role. I know we want it to be about them, but sometimes your manager can’t offer you flexibility on your terms because you aren’t delivering. Ask yourself if you’re doing your job well, and if your work is valuable and results-focused. Can they trust you to deliver no matter where you are, or what your hours look like?
- Your manager isn't aware of your health needs–both mental and physical, any ongoing pain management and/or medical appointments. If you need a flexible working arrangement because you suffer from an ongoing illness, it is really important you communicate your health needs with your manager. Health comes first, always. Developing a personalised and documented health plan together is my best advice.
- Your manager is managing you the way they were managed. This is common in managers who have themselves lacked positive role models or proper training. That said, there can also be complex personal issues wrapped up in this scenario. It is for sure outdated and relies heavily on seeing you to know you’re working, and I’ve also witnessed managers put their employees through "what they went through". It isn't my place or prerogative to comment on that, but I can only assume this is directly related to their own workplace trauma.
With these explainers–and there’s more–my advice when it comes to asking for flexibility is the same:
#1: Deliver in your role.
Find efficient ways to highlight how the results you drive impact the business. Use your performance data as a negotiation tool.
#2: Focus on building a professional relationship with your manager.
One that is based on trust and transparency. You don't have to like each other, but you do have to respect each other.
#3: Stop personalising.
Either take them up on their offer to drive what flexibility means for you or seek to understand why they make it hard and lead them to higher ground.
#4: Don’t apologise when asking for flexibility.
Keep it professional and bring forward your workflow recommendations. Anticipate what might be on your manager’s mind and deliver those solutions in your ask.
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