Who would argue that workplace flexibility can make or break whether someone living with debilitating health could stay employed? Everyone seems to agree it’s a great idea but ask an employer and you’ll hear why it’s so difficult to make happen.
Like it or now, the demand for a flex work life, however, is becoming the new normal. At the site, 1 Million for Work Flexibility, (love the name!) this post, Evolve or Get Left Behind, the author (a senior change leader at PricewatersCoopers – – not exactly a risk-taking culture), makes the case for flexibility as a good business decision. Her reason? A global study of their workforce found that 80% of their workforce are millennials who want “…to work in a place that allows them flexibility in where they work, how much they work and when they work.” (my italics)
How does this help those of us living with unpredictable and invisible health? In my experience, it’s the where, how much and when you work that are the deciding factors as to whether a person can stay employed by others. This sounds like and should be a significant improvement. But it’s still tricky when you have to explain or even justify why you want a flex schedule. For many years now, women — and men — in the U.S. have complained that they become marginalized when they choose the ‘mommy track’ — code word for flex. Has this changed? Probably in the younger generation. I’ve found that people with unpredictable health seem to think there’s at least some level of acceptable for moms or dads who want flex scheduling for parenting activities. They don’t find the same acceptance extended for those who need it for health reasons.
Let’s face it, do you think you’re going to get a wholeheartedly positive response to, “I need to work at unpredictable times because I live with an illness that makes my performance schedule unreliable.”? It’s in our best interest to frame your request strategically.
- Normalize the situation. When my client was hired, her boss told her proudly that all employees have a flexible schedule. She could work a 32 hour work week, have periodic breaks when needed and set her weekly schedule. But apparently, it’s busier than ever and that’s not what’s happening. She knows others are upset about the current scheduling but she doesn’t want to be the one to complain. Why? Because she needs flex for health reasons and that makes her feel different and vulnerable. She’s afraid they’ll think she’s not ‘up to the job’ although she’s had great feedback since she started. Could she think about why her request for change would be good for her boss? Could she make the case that a small reduction in hours with more breaks will make her more productive during her workday. Is there a need to explain why she needs this? Better to focus on what it would achieve. Focusing on the positive creates message that this change helps everyone win. True, she might not get what she wants but she’s started the conversation. Isn’t this better than hiding her problems, not saying anything at all from fear and having to quit when she can’t keep up?
- Flexibility means different things to different people. It’s your responsibility to figure out what you need to stay employed. As the author wrote in Evolve or Get Left Behind, “We all define flexibility differently depending on our personal and professional goals, but one thing on which we may all agree is that flexibility is not a “one size fits all” concept.” That means that there are not ‘good’ or better’ reasons to ask for changes and your changes or workarounds. But it does have to fit into the company’s model and culture.
The bottom line? Regardless of why you need a job with flexible scheduling, you have s much tight to it as the next person. Just make sure you frame it so you get it.
What have you done to get a more flexible schedule? What would you like to do differently?