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How to get your boss to say 'yes' to a flexible working arrangement

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Sally Henderson is a career mum with three kids who wants her boss to say yes to a flexible work arrangement.

But despite more Australian employers offering flexible work conditions as a way to help employees achieve work-life balance, Sally’s boss, at an undisclosed Sydney Council, isn’t on board.

“I submitted a request to my general manager and the human resources (HR) manager to work from 8:30am to 3pm five days a week on my current full-time pay and to make up the additional five hours a week from home and on weekends, but they rejected it.

“They actually engaged a lawyer to work out the right way to decline my request. And when they did reply to it, they didn’t acknowledge my application, they just copied and pasted wording from the Fair Work Australia website which was irrelevant to my circumstances.

Flexible work arrangements, such as alternative work patterns, job sharing and remote working, have become increasingly more common in Australia in recent years.

Despite this there is no rule that says an employer must offer flexibility.

“I see so many mums who take a lot of time out of the workforce when they have young children, and they find it really hard to get back in,” says Henderson.

“I don’t want to find myself in that situation. I want to keep my skills up and my superannuation growing.”

A lack of job flexibility is one of the commonly cited reasons why more women than men work part-time or take long career breaks once they have children.

Fair Work Australia says on its website that some employees who’ve worked for the same employer for at least 12 months can request flexible working arrangements, such as changes to hours, patterns or locations of work.

Employers can only refuse a request on reasonable business grounds. If a request is refused the written response must include the reasons for the refusal.

Christina Smerdon, Chief Flex Enabler and Financial Controller at jobs platform WORK180, says while you can’t make an employer change their view on flexible work, you can at least show them what other progressive employers are doing.

“Most of the organisations we work with are on a journey to introduce flexible work, so in some form or another most people get their flexible work arrangement accepted.

“City of Melbourne and City of Sydney are councils that provide flexible work arrangements.

“Flexible work arrangements should be for everyone, and we advocate for both men and women.”

Charlotte Rimmer the managing director of business consultancy Aide de MD says when employers provide flexibility, it usually results in greater employee appreciation and loyalty.

“Improved work life balance is best for productivity, usually means lower staff turnover and better return on investment (ROI) from your staff.”

5 tips to get your boss to say yes to flexible working

The experts say that the first step for getting your boss to say yes to a flexible work arrangement is to create a business case that is solutions and outcomes focused.

This should include:

  1. What you want the flexible work arrangement to look like

  2. How it will work for you and importantly, the business

  3. The benefits to you and the business

  4. How to manage any challenges relating to your proposal

  5. It should include a three or six month trial period

Rimmer also recommends showing that you have given full consideration to the impact on the business, including:

  • Is there an impact on other team members?

  • What effect will your flexible work arrangement have if any on business productivity?

  • What is the likely influence on workplace culture/energy?

  • Has a precedent already been set, or are you the first?

  • Will it reflect poorly on you employer if they don’t grant your proposal?

“It’s tricky when you have a boss who always says no to what you think is a great idea,” says Smerdon, adding that if a company has a history of saying no to other forms of employee support such as training and staff development days, then they may also say no to flexible work.

“Often there might be a resistant manager who says yeah but no, to everything.

“My suggestion would be to speak privately to a HR manager if you have one, or seek out if there are other men or women working flex or wanting to work flex and see if it is personal or an employer issue.

“If you’re not being supported in the business, then it may be time to move on and find an employer that offers the kind of workplace culture you desire,” says Smerdon.

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman is a women’s money columnist and the founder of Financy and the Financy Women’s Index.

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