Material Moms, The Mothership

[Material Moms] How To Negotiate For Flexi-Work – Sher-Li Torrey

So you are contemplating asking your employer for a flexible work arrangement. Before you do so, you need to ensure you’re well-prepared. Sher-Li Torrey, founder of Mums@Work, clues you in on how and what to prepare.

Increasingly, more women in Singapore are talking about Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA). Driven by a desire to balance work and family, many women consider FWA in order to look after their children or their aged parents. However, asking for FWA without a strategy is akin to running a marathon without any prior training. Here’s a checklist of what you need to prepare before stepping into your boss’s office.

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1. Be very clear about your objective

Know why you are asking for a flexible work-arrangement. Ensure that you have exhausted all other possibilities – and FWA is the best arrangement for your situation. Be honest in sharing with your supervisor why you want/need FWA at this current stage of your life. You will definitely be asked, so have your answer ready.

2. Define (in accurate, detailed terms) what type of Flexible Work Arrangement you want

Flexible Work Arrangements can vary from flexi-place (for example, telecommuting from home) to flexi-time (for example, working part-time). It can be a compressed-work week, job sharing (where two persons share one role) or even project-basis work. When you discuss with your boss the type of work arrangement you are looking at, define clearly what arrangement you would like to consider.

3. ‘Re-design’ your own job

You are the expert at your job, so you have to re-design your role. If you plan to work from home three days a week, segment your job into “what can be done from home”, “what must be done in the office” and “what can be outsourced to the other team mates”. This is a crucial portion of your negotiation. If you were asking for the change, it would be fair that you spend some time trying to re-design your job. That way, your supervisor will not feel like your request is giving him/her extra work.

4. Consider the impact of your new work-arrangement on your boss, co-workers (and your team)

Most jobs have a team element to them. When you choose to do FWA, there will be an impact on everyone around you. Consider the effects of your request (for example, will someone have to cover walk-in clients for you on the days that you are not physically in the office, or perhaps the weekly team meetings may need to be re-scheduled). Bear in mind that your flexible work arrangement may sometimes cause unhappiness (or feelings of unfair treatment) withing your co-workers. Discuss these issues openly with your supervisor from the beginning.

5. Analyse the impact on your career

Depending on your company, your job role and the type of arrangement you are asking for, your new work-arrangement may affect your career path. If you were working shorter hours, the most obvious change would be a decrease in salary. However, this need not always be the case. Flexi-work arrangements like a compressed work week or telecommuting should technically not affect your pay as the amount of hours put in and the amount of work stays the same. In fact, in most flexi-work negotiations, there should be NO decrease in pay if the amount of work and KPI’s have not changed.

In some firms (or specific work arrangements), you may also see a stagnation of career growth. Tough as it is, do discuss these points with your supervisor and your HR team.

6. Research your company – policies, case studies and HR rules

A fairly large group of companies in Singapore have processes for requesting for special work arrangements. In more progressive firms, the HR team may even have templates that can help you and your supervisor to implement the flexi-work change easily. In addition, there may be other employees in your firm who are currently taking up FWA. Try speaking to them about their experience (in a professional context) after taking up flexi-work. These case studies are good to bring up to your supervisor when negotiating. For example, there are many MNC banks, based in Singapore who do have FWA (on a case-by-case basis) for their employees.

7. Know your boss

Many of the successful cases for FWA that we see at Mums@Work are a result of a very professional, positive and trusting relationship between the supervisor and the flexi-worker. You should have an idea of your boss’s opinion about work-life balance, as well his/her view about flexi-work arrangements. If you work for someone who does not believe that FWA will work, then you know you are going to have a much harder time trying to convince him/her. When you have an opportunity, subtly suss out his/her opinions (without mentioning your request) to gauge his/her likely response when you do eventually request.

8. Analyse your own job history in the company and the team

Most employers want their employees to be contented and dedicated. In most cases, an employee who is perceived to value-add significantly to her team is likely to be cherished by her supervisor. Employees who have been with the company for a long time (and proven her capabilities to deliver results) will also stand in better stead than someone who has just joined the firm for three months. Your job history – including the amount of achievements and contribution to your company – is your bargaining chip. Remember: Employers want to retain talent. So ask yourself, are you really a talent?

9. Draw up your plan. (Yes, on paper, please!)

Too often, mothers who walk in without a proper plan and ask for flexible work get turned down. Putting down a proper ‘proposal’ is important. It not only shows that you are serious about your request, but it also shows your dedication (and effort) to make it work. If you can demonstrate how you can continue to be a good team player and produce results despite the change in work-arrangement, you are likely to have a better chance of getting approved.

10. Make an appointment

You’re encouraged to set up a dedicated appointment to discuss your proposal in person, as it shows your determination to make this work. Refrain from just emailing your boss and hoping he/she reads it. Remember: If you want this, show him/her that you mean business.

11. Negotiate – what can you compromise? What will you not compromise?

Like all negotiations, you have to be prepared that you may have to compromise. Sometimes, in certain situations, it is just impossible to come up with the exact arrangement you are asking for. A legal counsel (and a Mums@Work member) tried asking for a compressed-work week. She wanted to work four days, but with longer hours. However, her company was worried that her absence on Fridays would be felt as they had a very lean team. Eventually, she settled for five working days, of which two half-days she worked from home. Think though what you can and cannot compromise. But bear in mind, you want to create win-win: for you and your supervisor.

12. Don’t give up!

There are many cases where mothers ask for FWA and get turned down initially. But they re-strategised and created a new proposal. So if you don’t succeed the first time, do not rule it out as “Impossible”. Occasionally, it can also be about timing. For example, if you are the only experienced team-member working with a group of new-hires, it may not be the best time. So, just try again a few months down the road.

Flexible work arrangements are increasing in Singapore as more employers realise how effective it can be to retain talent like yourself. However, it does take a major cultural shift of perspectives for it to work. Have patience, strategise well, and give it a shot. You never know!

pic 1About The Author: It is no secret that Sher-li wishes there were more than 24 hours in a day. Besides climbing Mt Fuji and publishing a book, she thinks her biggest achievements are giving birth to two kids who keep her busy with their energetic pursuits (which include ruling their mummy’s world).