Q: I work at a small but growing firm. The owner is great and pays attention to employees’ needs. Another employee and I are pregnant, and we want to approach him about allowing us greater flexibility in our schedules. We need a few tips on how to do this.

A: This is a good question that is becoming more relevant as, increasingly, business leaders are recognizing that providing flexible options for their employees is a smart, strategic decision. It allows them to more effectively recruit and retain top talent. In addition, evidence suggests that employees that are allowed greater flexibility are engaged in their jobs, have higher job satisfaction rates and are more productive.

Tip 1: When approaching your boss, one of the most important first steps is to be clear about what you are asking for. In the past, work flexibility often referred to flex time, allowing employees more control over their starting and quitting times. Today, the definition has expanded to include other options*:

  • Having control over when you can take work breaks
  • Having control/choice over which shift you work
  • Moving from full-time to part-time (and perhaps back again while remaining in the same position or level)
  • Sharing jobs with another person
  • Working a compressed work week occasionally or permanently
  • Working at home or off site on a regular or periodic basis
  • Returning to work gradually after childbirth or adoption
  • Taking time off for important personal or family needs without pay loss
  • Taking paid or unpaid sabbaticals and returning to a comparable job
  • Taking time for education/training to improve skills

Tip 2: Be flexible as you discuss your options with your employer. Many employers have come a long way, but they still face challenges when implementing such measures. For example, employers cite obstacles such as extra costs, the scheduling demands of particular jobs, the difficulty of supervising from afar, too few staff to accommodate flexible schedules, administrative hassles and the leader’s desire to treat all employees equally. Successfully implementing flex options will likely require greater planning on the part of managers, work teams and individual employees. Work flow and client relationships may be disrupted if not carefully planned. If your owner is reluctant, you may want to offer to try out the new arrangement on a trial basis to learn from it and make necessary adjustments.

Tip 3: Do your homework and build your case to show your boss how it could work. Think through the implications for your fellow workers and the clients or customers with whom you work. Do you have a back-up plan if clients have an immediate need and you are not around that day? Before meeting with the owner, it wouldn’t hurt to rehearse what you want to say to a trusted friend who can provide his or her input.

Tip 4: Clear, honest communication between you and your boss is crucial. Both of you should lay out your expectations and what your assumptions of the new arrangement may be. Make sure you understand the boss’s concerns and honestly and directly respond to them.

More and more employers are taking the long-term approach when dealing with this issue and understand that what is most important is to retain their good employees rather than having them leave and take all their invaluable accumulated knowledge and experience with them.

Good luck.

* 2005 National Study of Employers, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation