Great ResignationCompensationReturn to WorkCareersLabor UnionsSuccess Stories

How to ask your manager for a flexible work schedule

February 8, 2022, 6:40 PM UTC

Future Forum, a consortium launched by Slack in 2020, recently shared results from its latest global Pulse survey. Over 10,000 knowledge workers from the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and the U.K. responded, and 95% agreed that a flexible schedule is preferred to the traditional 9 to 5.

“People don’t want a full, 9-to-5 day of meetings,” Brian Elliott, executive leader of the Future Forum, tells Fortune. “They want the flexibility to turn off notifications when it’s right for them. Maybe for caregivers, it’s the flexibility to log off from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., and then come back and do some heads-down work after the kids are in bed.”

This desire for flexibility is particularly strong among historically underrepresented groups, including people of color, women, and working mothers. And during a time when companies are struggling to find qualified workers, employees could find themselves with the power to ask for what they really want. 

“If you’re a job candidate, you should talk about your flexible work needs and be totally upfront in your interview process,” says Colleen Tucker, VP of people at software company Bubble. “The market right now is super employee-friendly, and companies are much more willing to do flexible hours.”

On the other hand, if you’ve been with a company for a long time and have an established track record, you should have an open and honest conversation with your manager, Tucker says. “Many companies are currently working through their policies, so you could help effect that change.”

Employees should come prepared with data

“Employees think managers aren’t able to have the flexibility discussion,” John Morgan, president of Lee Hecht Harrison, an HR management consultancy, tells Fortune. But he encourages workers to ask for what they need, not from a place of entitlement, but with data and facts to show how they’re more productive when they choose their own hours.

Always point to output, Morgan advises. “Managers realize people want flexibility. There’s sometimes an incorrect sentiment that young workers believe things are owed to them. But young people just need to honestly approach their manager and say, ‘Here’s how I’ve been thriving and producing for the company.’ You can expect flexibility when you show you’ve delivered results.”

Take the results of surveys, like the one from Future Forum, and use it as a way to initiate conversations, says Elliott. “We hope this data will open bosses’ eyes to challenges people face.”

To get your boss on board, put together a proposal and really emphasize the outcomes. “In our research, people with schedule flexibility are more productive, and that’s really key,” Elliott says. “The companies who afford workers more flexibility are those ones who attract talent disproportionately.”

If you don’t get the answer you’re looking for, it might be time to consider a new job. “There are a lot of jobs out there adopting more flexible work arrangements. Look for a situation that works best with your family,” says Tucker.

Bosses will have to embrace the change

Managers need to consider whether they’re managing their employees on the basis of outcomes as opposed to the number of hours they work each week. “Shifting to outcomes-based management instead of attendance-based is hard work, and it takes reskilling,” Elliott says. “But from a company perspective, isn’t it better?”

“At the end of the day, the sentiment is that most people want to be measured on their output, not the time they clock in,” says Morgan. 

He warns that time and location mandates can zap employee productivity, and LHH has been counseling its clients to help managers foster dialogue with workers, meeting them where they’re at, when it comes to creating work schedules.

Flexible workplace is essential for DEI success 

Companies can’t deliver on DEI goals without flexible work arrangements, Morgan argues. “Managers need to openly and honestly communicate about where the company vision sits with DEI overall.”

For companies focused on recruiting and retaining talent, things that were once differentiators—like remote work and paid time off—have become standard, Tucker argues, and companies now have to find new and better ways of standing out.

“Maybe that can be really doubling down on what flexibility means, with something like a four-day workweek, or asynchronous work,” she says. “But a lot will come down to execution. How clear are your policies, how well-enforced and equitable? Do you have great collaboration and communication tools in place? Is your office set up for social and collaborative work? It’s not enough to just say we’re a flexible work environment. It’s about executing.”

Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.