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Flexibility at Work: A Win-Win Solution for Employers and Employees

Flexibility has become a must-have perk for many job seekers and employees, especially with the rise of return to work-demands post-COVID-19.

Employees are required to return to the office three or four days a week. Some employees claim they have been deprived of flexible hours and must be available for meetings during business core hours. Instead of enforcing a rigid workplace environment or schedule, companies could acknowledge individual needs and support employees in their quest for work-life harmonization and well-being.

What is Flexibility at Work?

Flexibility at work refers to the ability of employees to have some level of control and adaptability in how, when, and where they perform their job duties. As a result of COVID-19 work arrangements, it has become an essential element of modern workplace culture. Flexibility at work can take various forms, catering to each employee, manager's preferences, job title, industry, and organizational needs.

Flexibility is usually defined as having flexible work hours. Employees can adjust their work hours, such as starting and ending the workday at different times. This arrangement can help them better balance work with personal commitments, like childcare or other responsibilities.

Flexibility can also be understood as having remote work options, allowing employees to work from home or other off-site locations. The company trusts employees to perform tasks and be productive wherever they choose to work.

Other forms of flexibility are part-time or reduced work hours for some time or permanently. Some companies offer compressed workweeks where employees can work 10-hour days (40 hours per week) and have a three-day weekend.

Another option is job sharing, where two or more people perform a single job while splitting the responsibility and hours. This arrangement can be helpful for individuals with specific scheduling constraints.

One of my favorite forms of flexibility is allowing employees to work on different tasks, especially the ones using skills they enjoy. Switching between tasks and projects can keep employees engaged and enhance their skills.

Flexibility at work refers to the ability of employees to have some level of control and adaptability in how, when, and where they perform their job duties.

Some companies use perks such as personal leave options as a form of flexibility. Employers may offer flexible personal leave policies, including paid time off, unpaid leave, or sabbaticals for extended periods away from work. Others encourage employees to integrate their personal and professional lives when necessary, as long as they meet their job responsibilities.

Flexibility can mean different things to job seekers, employees, managers, and organizations. People must understand what flexibility means inside their workplace without assuming it’s about work hours or remote work arrangements.

'Flexibility' in Job Descriptions

In some job descriptions, companies list 'flexibility' as a perk. Sometimes, they don’t clarify what that means. Even if the job description mentions flexible hours, as a job seeker, you may want to learn what flexibility means for your position and department.

Managers may interpret flexibility differently inside the same organization. The company may also view your job as 'not suitable' for flexible work arrangements. This situation often happens with new hires. You need to prove you can perform the job well before you can work from home or have a different schedule. Your company's work environment can determine how long this 'trust-building' phase takes.

What if ‘flexibility’ in the job description meant a heavy workload? Would you still apply for the job? Unfortunately, if you don’t research the company, you can become overworked, underpaid, and stressed out within six months on the job. That’s why you need to be aware of how the word flexibility is used and what it means for your job.

Managers can use flexibility as an excuse to constantly demand overtime, especially if you don’t get extra pay after you have worked over 40 hours per week. The idea is that you have flexible hours and can work from anywhere, so you can handle more work. When flexibility is used to imply that you may be available to manage demanding deadlines at any time, this perk can quickly become a nightmare.

Before you apply for a job, do your research: Read about the company and read reviews and news beyond the company’s website. If possible, reach out to former and current employees and ask them about their experience with flexibility inside their department.

Unfortunately, if you don’t research the company, you can become overworked, underpaid, and stressed out within six months on the job.

When you interview for a job, it's your chance to ask about flexibility. You can clarify what you have learned through your research and ask your potential manager what flexibility means to them and your position. Here are some questions to consider based on your needs:

  • Can I work a different schedule? If so, when will that happen?

  • Can I take a few hours off during the day and finish my work later?

  • Can I work remotely from a different state?

  • What is the company's policy on remote work or telecommuting?

  • How does the company support employees with caregiving responsibilities or other personal commitments?

  • Can you provide examples of how employees have taken advantage of flexible work arrangements?

  • What technology and tools does the company provide to facilitate remote work or flexible scheduling?

  • Is there a formal process for requesting and implementing flexible work arrangements?

  • What is the company's stance on work-related expectations outside of standard business hours?

  • Are there any specific performance metrics or evaluations related to remote or flexible work arrangements?

  • Are there any limitations or restrictions on flexibility, depending on the role or department?

It's crucial that you research the company, reach out to people if possible, and ask the right questions about flexibility during your interview if you want to get the flexibility you need. Your goal is to avoid signing up for a job and learning later that flexibility means working non-stop to meet competing deadlines and ongoing demands. Flexibility is beneficial in a healthy work environment, but it can create a workaholic culture in a toxic one.

The Lack of Flexibility and Its Consequences

The lack of flexibility in the workplace can have significant consequences for both employees and employers. Here are some key points to consider:

Consequences for Employees:

  • Increased Stress and Burnout: When employees do not have flexibility in their work arrangements, they may struggle to balance their professional and personal lives. This can lead to increased stress and burnout as they try to meet their job responsibilities while managing other commitments such as family, health, or personal development.

  • Limited Work-Life Harmonization: Without flexibility, employees may find it challenging to achieve a healthy work-life balance. This imbalance can result in negative impacts on their physical and mental well-being, potentially leading to decreased job satisfaction and productivity.

  • Reduced Job Satisfaction: Employees who do not have the option to work in ways that suit their needs may become less satisfied with their jobs. This dissatisfaction can lead to decreased morale, engagement, and loyalty to the company.

  • Difficulty in Career Advancement: A lack of flexibility can hinder employees' career advancement opportunities. Those who need flexibility for personal reasons, such as caregiving responsibilities, may find it challenging to take on additional responsibilities or seek promotions.

  • Talent Attrition: Highly skilled and experienced professionals may leave their jobs in search of more flexible opportunities elsewhere. This can result in talent attrition and the loss of valuable employees.

Consequences for Employers:

  • Difficulty in Attracting Top Talent: In today's competitive job market, offering flexibility is often seen as a significant perk. Companies that do not provide flexibility may struggle to attract and retain top talent, especially among younger generations who prioritize work-life harmonization.

  • Lower Employee Morale and Productivity: Employees who feel constrained by rigid work arrangements may experience lower morale and reduced productivity. This can result in decreased overall organizational performance.

  • Increased Turnover: A lack of flexibility can lead to higher turnover rates as employees seek positions that better accommodate their needs. Employee turnover is costly and can disrupt the stability of a company.

  • Negative Employer Branding: Companies that are perceived as inflexible may develop a negative reputation in the job market. This can deter potential candidates from applying and tarnish the company's image.

  • Missed Diversity and Inclusion Opportunities: A lack of flexibility can hinder efforts to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. Some individuals, such as those with disabilities or unique scheduling needs, may be excluded from the workforce if flexibility is not offered.

  • Decreased Adaptability: In a rapidly changing business environment, adaptability is crucial. Inflexible companies may struggle to respond to unexpected challenges or market shifts.

  • Legal and Compliance Risks: In some jurisdictions, there are legal requirements related to flexibility, such as accommodations for employees with disabilities or regulations regarding work hours. Non-compliance can result in legal consequences for employers.

The lack of flexibility in the workplace can have a range of negative consequences for both employees and employers. To mitigate these consequences and create a more supportive and productive work environment, many organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of offering flexible work arrangements as part of their talent management and retention strategies.

How to Negotiate Flexibility in a Job Offer

Negotiating flexibility in a job offer can be crucial in achieving a work arrangement that aligns with your needs and preferences. Here are some steps you can take to negotiate flexibility as a new hire:

  1. Before entering negotiations, have a clear understanding of your specific flexibility requirements. This includes knowing what type of flexibility you need (remote work, flexible hours, etc.), under what circumstances, and how it aligns with your personal and professional goals.

  2. It's often best to discuss flexibility after receiving a job offer but before accepting it. This shows genuine interest in the role while allowing room for negotiation.

  3. Research the company's existing policies and culture regarding flexibility. Are there other employees who have flexible arrangements? This information can be useful during negotiations.

  4. Craft a persuasive argument for why you need flexibility and how it will benefit the company. Emphasize how it won't compromise your productivity or commitment to the role.

  5. Choose to negotiate flexibility through written communication (email), over the phone, or in person, depending on what's most appropriate for the situation. Make sure you feel comfortable with your chosen method.

  6. Begin the negotiation conversation by expressing enthusiasm for the job offer. Make it clear that you are excited about the opportunity.

  7. Discuss your qualifications, skills, and past achievements. This can reinforce their value to the company and increase their negotiating leverage.

  8. Instead of simply asking for flexibility, propose a specific solution that addresses your needs while ensuring you can meet your job responsibilities. For example, if you want remote work, propose a trial period to demonstrate your productivity.

  9. Negotiations are often about finding a middle ground. Be open to compromise and willing to adjust your request based on the company's needs and constraints.

  10. If the employer expresses concerns about how flexibility may affect teamwork or communication, you should have solutions ready to address these concerns. This shows your commitment to making the arrangement work.

  11. Frame the negotiation as an opportunity for both parties to benefit. Flexibility can lead to increased employee satisfaction and productivity, which ultimately benefits the employer.

  12. Once both parties agree on the terms of flexibility, ensure that the agreement is documented in writing and included as part of the job offer or employment contract.

  13. Maintain professionalism and show respect for the employer's point of view, even if the negotiation doesn’t go as planned.

The employer may not be able to accommodate your flexibility request. In such situations, be prepared to accept the job offer as is or decline it if the lack of flexibility is a non-negotiable issue for you. Approach the negotiation with a positive attitude and a willingness to collaborate with the employer to find a mutually beneficial solution.

How to Ask for Flexibility as an Employee

Asking for flexibility at work can be intimidating, but you won’t get it if you don’t try it. Asking for what you need can help you achieve your work-life harmonization goals faster and improve your health and well-being.

  • Identify your needs: What type of flexibility are you hoping for? Be specific before you have a conversation with your manager. If you don’t ask for what you need, you may get a flexible arrangement that won’t help you meet your goals. Consider these examples:

Why do I need to change my work hours?

How can the new work arrangement help me become more productive?

How will I contribute to the team even more with a flexible schedule?

Do I want to work from home two days per week?

Do I want to reduce my work hours?

Do I want to work from a different city or state?

  • Do your research: What type of flexibility does your employer currently offer? Check the employee handbook for a flexible work arrangement policy or ask an HR representative. Consider this question: Does anyone in my team have flexibility? What does that look like?

  • Meet with your manager: Discuss your need for flexibility with data. Be clear about what you are asking for and why. Explain how you will maintain productivity, stay connected with the team, and perform your tasks.

  • Be willing to compromise: Your manager may suggest a different arrangement. Remember, your flexible work arrangement must work for you, your manager, and your team. Be open to negotiating a solution that works for you and your employer.

The employer may not be able to accommodate your flexibility request. In such situations, be prepared to accept the job offer as is or decline it if the lack of flexibility is a non-negotiable issue for you.

What if your manager said NO? What if you didn’t get what you expected? Follow-up! Ask your manager to provide an option or suggest another flexible arrangement. You can also ask your manager for a trial: work from home once a week for two months. You can renegotiate your work arrangement based on your performance.

If you get a new work arrangement, remember to get it in writing. If your organization doesn’t provide you with a document to sign, then create your own. Send an email to your manager with the key points of the discussion and what was granted as your new flexible work arrangement. Ask your manager to reply and confirm that everything looks good.

Advocating for yourself can be difficult, but only you have the power to speak up. You can increase your work and life harmonization goals when you ask for what you want and need at work. Sometimes, you need to have a few conversations before you get the flexibility you deserve, but don’t give up!

For any flexibility arrangement to work, employers should foster open communication with employees to understand their needs and expectations regarding flexibility. Regular check-ins and feedback can help hold employees accountable under the new work arrangement. Employees should understand the expectations of the job and how their manager evaluates performance. The workplace culture can support and encourage flexibility whenever possible with leaders and managers promoting the value of work-life harmonization and well-being.

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