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How to get your boss to say yes to flexitime

Text: Wendy Naugle

September 6, 2017

How to get your boss to say yes to flexitimeAnna Auerbach, 34, and Annie Dean, 31, knew the corporate leadership track for women was broken — they saw it in the absence of female leaders in their own fields (consulting and real estate law, respectively). Then they experienced why: When they had kids, juggling family and corporate schedules started to feel impossible. “I had billion dollar deals on my plate that I was trying to close as a corporate attorney, and a ten-month-old child who I never saw,” says Annie. “I felt like the only amount of energy I had in my body was to make my cells divide. You think you can just work through it, but there is no way when the structures are set up for you not to succeed. My life had fundamentally changed but my ambition had not.”

After she found a new job (and had another baby) the question of how to solve that problem kept nagging at her. She connected with Anna, also a new mom, and together they launched Werk, a job board that posts opportunities at companies throughout the U.S. with flexibility baked into every position, to help keep women in the workforce and in decision-making roles. “We always say, what would workplaces look like if women were involved in designing them?” says Anna. “People are talking a lot about industrial design, what should workplaces look like, but we’re not talking about how we work.”

These trailblazers — fast talkers who finish each other’s sentences — are fueling that conversation, and they advise on how you can find a sane, successful schedule. Their rules:

Flexibility isn’t a perk — it shouldn’t involve a pay cut

Annie Dean: As we were launching Werk, we realised there is no industry standard definition of flexibility. We decided it means any modifications to a full-time role that increase the compatibility between the objectives of an employer and an employee. The time of day that you are physically working, where your butt actually is when you’re performing that work — those should be flexible. But one area does not flex: salary and scope. If you’re performing a full-time role, just with modifications — whether it’s unconventional hours or a work-from-home day — you should not be paid any less.

Anna Auerbach: Historically, flexibility has been associated with a pay cut because it was treated as a perk. You asked for something “special,” it’s a give-and-take. But that’s a misunderstanding of flexibility! Companies get more out of an employee — research shows that workers with flexible schedules are more effective, more productive, less likely to quit. They just work harder because they’re happier.

Before you ask, know what you need

Anna: Self-reflection is step one: What do you need to be good at your job? I recognised that I work in short spurts — I work so intensely but then I need a break. The idea of a ten hour day for me is just not the way my brain works, I’m better in four-hour chunks.

Annie: Take yourself out to dinner and have a glass of wine and really write down, What did my day look like today? What objectives did I have? What do I need [to reach them]?

Anna: It’s like this: If you have a jar and you’ve got big rocks and little rocks, you need to put the big rocks in first. Then all of the little rocks will fit around them. But if you put the little rocks in first you’re not going to have room for the big rocks; that’s just the way life works. So figure out what the big rocks are — what are your greatest value adds to the company? Prioritise time for those. Because all of us could spend our entire day answering emails and get absolutely nothing done. Self-reflection helps you figure out what your value is.

Then, make your ask all about the business

Anna: You have to position any request for flexibility as a business-first negotiation. This is not just about you as a person — a business exists to create value for shareholders, or if it’s a nonprofit, to create impact for people. You have to put it in those terms always. And once you know how you create value for the company, you have a leverage base point; it makes it a much easier conversation.

Annie: Sell it to the company in a way that shows how it will increase their bottom line.

Negotiate from a position of strength

Annie: I hid my second pregnancy until I was seven months, then one day I was late to work after getting off the subway twice to throw up in a trashcan. I was like, I can no longer hide this. I went into the partner’s office crying — obviously you never want to be having these conversations in a personal crisis moment. You want to be forward thinking and lay out your priorities and say, “My life is changing; here is how it will impact my business schedule. I have anticipated all of the potential challenges, and I anticipate meeting those needs in x, y, and z way. I welcome your input — let’s have a meeting every 30 days for the first three months, and then I think I will show you results.”

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Anna: [The world] still operates in a structure that is about face time — people think if they see you, then you’re doing work. The reality is that’s not always the case, and the flipside is also true, you might get more done at home. So the burden is on you to over-communicate. Send off an end-of-day or end-of-week summary of what you did.

Annie: Constantly provide feedback; it’s not just proving how good you are at your job, but also building a culture where people can rely on arrangements like this.

And don’t let anyone “flexi-shame” you

Anna: There are always going to be colleagues who are naysayers — we call it flexibility shaming. As women, we have to stand up for each other. And we need companies to make these policies open. The more things are in the dark and in the shadows, the more people create narratives. And the more things are out in the open, the less they’re misunderstood.

Annie: And sometimes, you have to sit somebody down for coffee and be like, I think that you are uncomfortable with what is happening and I want to let you know why I’m doing this. That can be challenging, but if we want to implement flexibility policies effectively, we need to have these uncomfortable conversations and make them more workable for everyone.

If all else fails, find your own flexibility hacks

Anna: My hack? Managing your calendar ruthlessly.

Annie: Yeah, literally — when we launched Werk, I had to create a calendar where I said, 7am I have to get up. By 7:30am, I need to have accomplished these three tasks. I practised for two weeks so that I could know if I hit the 8am mark and I haven’t completed two things then some things have to go. They’re off the calendar. It created a habit of understanding what the day needed to look like in order for me to be successful. You actually need to create space and time or it won’t exist.

Taken from GLAMOUR US. Click here to read the original.

Looking for more advice from real, successful women? Check out these 3 tips for landing your first job from one of the most BOSS women in tech.

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