How Parents Can Ask For A Flexible Work Schedule — And Get It

COVID-19 forced many employers to finally give parents flexible work arrangements. Here's how to keep it that way.
Surveys suggest that many employees do not want to return to the office full time when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
martinedoucet via Getty Images
Surveys suggest that many employees do not want to return to the office full time when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

In many different ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a disaster for working parents. Job losses hit parents with low incomes particularly hard, making it nearly impossible for them to provide for their families. Millions of mothers have been squeezed out of the workforce. Parental stress and burnout are basically universal.

Yet, there’s been one bright spot for some (though certainly not all) working parents: The past 12 months have served as a crash course for employers learning how to give parents more flexibility when it comes to working from home. Formerly rigid companies have seen firsthand that their employees still have tremendous value even if they, say, sign off for an hour to oversee a second-grade class — or that they can still hit their deadlines and targets by working after their children go to sleep at night.

And employees overwhelmingly do not want to go back to business as usual. In one survey from Hibob, a virtual human resources startup, only 13% of employees said they wanted to go back to working in the office five days a week.

“I think we will have really failed working parents if we can’t figure out how to move forward in a more flexible way that allows them to be the parents that they want to be,” said Stacey Delo, CEO of Après, a digital platform that helps mothers find jobs when returning to the workforce, and co-author of the book “Your Turn: Careers, Kids and Comebacks — A Working Mother’s Guide.”

With that in mind, here are important strategies to consider when talking to your boss about adopting a hybrid work schedule as more and more offices open up.

Get clear with yourself about what you want.

Before you talk to your employer about the possibility of negotiating a hybrid work schedule, spend some time really figuring out what exactly you’re looking for.

“This is a great time to take stock and prioritize what’s important to you,” Delo said. She recommended writing down a list: What has worked for you during the pandemic? What hasn’t? What parts of the experience would you want to keep moving forward, and what would you like to change?

“Come up with a personal framework of what you’d like your next phase for your work life to look like,” Delo added.

Try to be as specific as possible, because when it comes to flexibility, one size does not fit all. For example, perhaps you need to be available to attend basketball practice at 4 p.m. on Thursdays, Delo said. Or maybe you want to come into the office a few days a week and stay home on other days. Or you just want the hours from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to be totally work-free.

Whatever it is, make sure to have a clear sense of what you want before you start any conversations with your employer.

Remind your employer that providing you with flexibility is good for the company, too.
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Remind your employer that providing you with flexibility is good for the company, too.

But have (or be open to) a plan B.

There’s been a lot of hype about how, even when the pandemic is in our collective rearview mirror, remote work is here to stay and the five-day office week will be gone forever. But Delo and other experts said they’re not totally convinced that is the case, and surveys done up to this point suggest companies have mixed feelings.

“I think it’s really TBD,” Delo said.

That’s why having a backup plan — even if it’s just a vague one — is crucial.

“Have a plan B in place in case your manager isn’t open to a fully flexible schedule from the get-go,” Rhiannon Staples, chief marketing officer at Hibob, told HuffPost. “Consider proposing a trial period, or offer to set up regular check-ins with the team where you can align on project goals, progress, and to discuss how each party is feeling about the arrangement.”

When you start any conversations about hybrid schedules and flexibility, make sure to emphasize that you’re open to finding an arrangement that works for your boss and company too. Basically, when you’re asking for flexibility, be prepared to show you’re willing to “be flexible in return,” Delo said.

Make the case for how and why a hybrid schedule benefits your employer.

Delo believes that one mistake that many parents unintentionally make when pushing for more flexibility is that they only emphasize the potential benefits for themselves, and forget to explicitly make the case for why it’s good for their company, too. But plenty of evidence shows that flexibility boosts retention and can improve diversity. Hiring new employees is also expensive and requires significant time and resources. And when mothers leave the workforce, it leads to billions of dollars in lost wages and economic activity.

“I like to lead with an overall statement of gratitude, and to talk about what you can do for the company. Then give the three supporting reasons, then wrap up with a closing statement,” Delo said. Those supporting reasons should play up how providing you with ongoing flexibility helps the company overall.

Also, do your homework ahead of time and be prepared to talk about what you’ve been able to achieve while working remotely, which again just shows how it’s good for the company if you continue to do so.

“Provide examples of projects you have excelled on, the goals you’ve achieved, and the dedication you have shown to the company while working remotely,” Staples said. “This will help show your manager that your work is a priority and will not slip up with flexibility.”

Above all else, speak up.

It can be intimidating to ask your employer for flexibility, particularly if you’re feeling lucky to have made it through the pandemic and to have a job of any kind at this point. But don’t be afraid to ask for a more flexible schedule even if you work for a company that appears to be headed back to its pre-pandemic routine.

“Even if a company policy seems iron-clad, it can’t hurt to speak to your manager or HR team about your situation,” Staples said. “Bringing data to back up your case will give you the best chance of success in this conversation. If you aren’t able to find a schedule or system that works for you, be open about that with your manager.”

Delo added that you shouldn’t be put off if you seem to be the only working parent at your company who is seeking greater flexibility post-pandemic. (It’s unlikely, though, that you’re alone.)

“If you’re clear on what your priorities are, you really have to put your blinders on,” she said. In other words, do not compare yourself to other parents in your workplace. “You may want flexibility. Another person may really want the structure of going into work.”

That doesn’t mean one of you is a better or worse employee, nor does it mean anything about your capabilities as a parent. It’s really what flexibility is and should be all about.

Finally, take comfort in the fact that while your current manager or company may not be open to a more flexible work schedule, many really, truly are. It might take a bit of time and digging, but plenty of businesses have already indicated they are switching to long-term remote or hybrid work.

“Many companies are hiring now with flexible roles,” Staples said, “and strong candidates have many new opportunities at their disposal.”

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