Why Asking for a Flexible Schedule Doesn’t Have to be Career Suicide
New research shows that when it comes to employees requesting flextime, managers favor men over women. This is not exactly encouraging news.
Researchers from The University of Texas, Yale and Harvard asked managers how they would respond to requests for a flexible schedule (in the form of a shift in work hours) in three different scenarios: male versus female employees, professional workers versus hourly workers, and for the purpose of career development versus childcare. From The Miami Herald:
Managers were most likely to grant a shift in work hours to the professional men pursuing career advancement opportunities. Male hourly workers also were likely to receive approval if they needed flexibility for family care. But the women—both professional and hourly—were unlikely to be granted a flexible schedule regardless of the reason for the request. Women were unable to use either their professional status within the organization or their reason for requesting flexibility to boost the probability that the manager would say yes.
Well, this is upsetting news on a few levels. First of all, it looks like women aren’t likely to be granted a flexible schedule even if they work up the nerve to ask for it. These results also don’t encourage women to believe that asking for a flexible schedule won’t hurt their careers. According to a recent survey from More magazine, 92 percent of women say they value workplace flexibility, but one-third consider it career suicide to ask for more flexibility in their jobs. This study only supports the notion that when a woman asks about even the possibility of a flexible schedule, she is indicating to the employer that she isn’t willing to work as hard as her colleagues.
Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide: Success Secrets of a Career Coach, said:
On Wall Street and at top law firms, asking for a flexible work schedule is often a career “killer”…it can be the kiss of death. Even at firms like Goldman Sachs, which has historically been viewed as a desirable “mommy” friendly environment, when cuts are made, women with “alternative” schedules are often the most vulnerable. In addition, when it comes to determining annual bonuses, the numbers are often based on visibility and time seen on—and in—the job. In large part, it is due to the fact that women with flex schedules are not present to engage in political jockeying. So…there is truth to the statement: out of sight out of mind.
But there are other reasons women may get turned down for their flex time requests. They may not have a prepared, thought-out presentation on why they need this alternative schedule, or they might be asking for this kind of flexibility too early on in their career. Just like asking for a raise, the strategy for changing your work schedule takes time and devotion. However, there are some simple things you can do to improve your chances of getting a flexible schedule:
Do your homework
You have to have a formal proposal when making a request like this. It’s the same as if you are asking for a promotion.
Don’t ask on your first day
Having a flexible schedule is a rite of passage in the work world. You have to be at your company long enough to prove that you’re responsible enough to get your work done, no matter where you are.
Be clear about your schedule
Don’t propose some loose, unclear schedule. It has to be realistic.
Inform your coworkers about your schedule
Make sure your coworkers and support team are comfortable with this change in schedule. If you can tell your boss that your team will not be impacted negatively by your working outside of the office, your point will be stronger.
Show your boss you’re indispensable
Just like you would when asking for a promotion or a raise, you need to show your boss that you are an asset to this company. You need to be retained, even if you’re working from home or odd hours. Show your boss your achievements to prove you’re indispensable. Even if you don’t get the schedule, he or she will be reminded of your talent.
You can also remind your boss of all the companies that do permit flexible schedules for their employees and the benefits of that. Flexible work arrangements can reduce absences and company turnover, which contributes to overall better production, according to a 2010 report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. Companies with flexible work hour arrangements include Best Buy, PNC Financial Services, PricewaterhouseCoopers, General Mills and KPMG LLP.
It just goes to show that if you do it right, asking for flex time doesn’t have to be career suicide.
What do you think about this study? Tell us in the comments!
Meredith Lepore is the former editor of the women’s career site The Grindstone. Before that, she was on staff at Wall Street Letter and Business Insider and was a contributing writer for LearnVest. She earned her Master’s in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University after graduating with a degree in Brain and Cognitive Science from the University of Rochester. Meredith resides in New York full-time and enjoys reading, jogging, shopping and playing with her puppy, Otis.
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