Cover all the angles when proposing a flexible schedule

Dear Joan:
A co-worker and I are trying to come up with a proposal to submit to the two owners of our company as to the possibility of working four, ten-hour days. This has to be worked out just so, due to the fact that they are not used to change and need it spelled out exactly.

We are a small firm, with a total staff of 21 people. We could really use some sort of general guidance or tips on how to go about presenting this, so they will at least think about it, instead of shooting it down right away.

Many people are trying to arrange more flexible schedules, in order to get more balance in their lives. The tight job market is in your favor, which is making it difficult to find good candidates for open positions. Nonetheless, you’re both wise to plan carefully before you propose working a condensed workweek.

The main issues to consider are:

1.                  The nature of your jobs,

2.                  Whether you both want the same day off,

3.                  Coverage of phones and other customer service issues,

4.                  Co-worker issues.

Let’s examine each one, so that you can put together a proposal that is well thought out.

§      The nature of your jobs will be the most important factor to consider. For instance, if you are doing individual project work, it will be much easier to do that in four ten-hour days, than if you have many incoming phone calls, five days a week. If you do have heavy external interaction, your managers will be very resistant to allowing a compressed workweek.

§      You might have more luck if you both ask for a different day off. For instance, if one takes off Friday and the other takes off Monday, each of you may be able to fill the gap for the other person. If your jobs are different but related, perhaps you could suggest cross-training each other, so there would be no perceptible gap in productivity or service.

§      Foremost on their minds will be the potential impact on the customer. Examine your jobs carefully and be realistic about the amount of customer interaction you have each day. For example, if you field customer inquiries, someone else will have to pick up the slack on the days your both off. If you don’t talk with customers, but do customer-related work with your co-workers, it may slow the process down if you are at work when they have gone home. Think through your workflow and service issues beforehand, and come up with solutions that won’t be an inconvenience or burden for your fellow workers.

§      Your managers will also be worried about getting other special requests, if they grant yours. The fear of setting a precedent may become a deal breaker. Often, managers are reluctant to say to one group of employees that they can have flexibility, while telling another group that they can’t. They are worried about morale problems and turnover. Because you indicate that the two owners aren’t very open to change, I suspect they are not strong leaders. If this is the case, they will shy away from making a move like this, since they will not want to rock the boat.

Probably the only way around this is to anticipate their resistance and be ready with criteria that could be used to determine eligibility for flexible schedules, company wide.   In addition, if the firm is growing, you can make the point that flexibility would be a great recruiting tool.

For example, you could start with the four categories I’ve outlined and add on any others that are pertinent to your business needs. Doing some of the thinking for them could diffuse their initial rejection of your idea. I suggest that you put your request in writing. Approach both of the managers and let them both know that you and your co-worker are preparing a proposal for them, which they will get the next day. Request a meeting for the four of you, in a few days when they are ready to discuss it. I would avoid getting into a major discussion with only one manager or without your co-worker. In order for each of them to feel comfortable making a decision, they should both hear the same things at the same time.

Finally, if your need for flexibility is so strong (a family-related problem, for instance) that you may have to quit if this request isn’t granted, let the owners know. It will help them see what their alternatives are. Good luck!

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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