How to ask for flexible work without being told no.

September 5, 2016 in Jobs-Shared

There are many different types of flexible work options, and I believe there is something for everyone, even the workaholics as outlined in my last post. Once you’ve given some thought to which type of flexible work is right for you, the next step is getting it across the line with your employer (insert dramatic music).

In Australia we’re lucky, the Fair Work Act 2009 provides employees a legal right to request flexible working arrangements as long as you’ve been working for your employer for 12 months in either a full-time or part-time capacity. The issue is, it’s not carte blanche, there is a list of circumstances that determine whether you’re eligible, mostly around the ‘carer’ requirement (see the full list here). But your request is just that, a request, it can be declined on reasonable business grounds. So what constitutes ‘reasonable business grounds?’


  • The requested arrangements are too costly
  • Other employees’ working arrangements can’t be changed to accommodate the request
  • It’s impractical to change other employees’ working arrangements or hire new employees to accommodate the request
  • The request would result in a significant loss of productivity or have significant negative impact on customer service.

As you can see ‘reasonable business grounds’ are rather vague, so approach your request with a well thought out approach. Here are 10 tips to show you’re serious about making your flexible request work, not just for you, but your boss and the company. But most importantly, show that you’re still career motivated.


1. Do your research

Many companies already have flexible work policies, ANZ and Telstra, for example, have an all roles flex approach, while others will have a policy well hidden so no one thinks to use it. Check with HR if there is one already in place (or get the intern to do it so as to avoid raising any alarm bells before you’re ready).

If there’s no formal policy, do a bit of digging around on the company website, flexibility is usually something companies like to promote externally. A good tip is to use the company language to help you put your proposal together. For example, if the website talks about “we promote the values of better health” use that in your proposal – “Working for a company that promotes the values of better health is important to me…”


2. What’s in it for your boss?

get that job

Your flexible solution needs to be about more than what’s in it for you.

Don’t sell how it’s going to make your life easier or better, approach it from your employer’s point-of-view. A common concern is how the work is going to get done.

A good way to approach this is not to focus so much on when and where work is going to be done, but what work is going to be done, so they have a checklist of what tasks they can expect to be complete each week.

Or you can turn it into a positive, for instance, if you need to start earlier or work later, this could be a bonus for your employer, allowing clients more hours of the day where the business is contactable.


3. Get the support from your team

Talk to colleagues who might be affected and work out solutions. Sometimes it might be a good starting point to talk to the team you work with first. There might be ways to manage your flexible request that doesn’t cause too much disruption. For instance, if you want a later start time, one of your colleagues might actually like an earlier finish time, and you can take your suggestion to your employer with team support behind you.


4. Make the request face to face

In most cases it’s not appropriate to send an email asking for a permanent flexible arrangement, ask for a face-to-face meeting at a time convenient to your employer. Go to the meeting prepared with your suggestion of how it works for you, for them, the business and the team. Show you’ve considered it in detail. Face to face will allow you an opportunity to address concerns more effectively, and have a more productive discussion around how it can work  for everyone.


5. Don’t say it’s because you’re tired

While I am a strong advocate that any reason for working flexibly is reason enough, the ‘I’m exhausted’ reason will not do wonders for the career progression side of things. There is a huge difference between ‘I’m stressed and tired’ and ‘I have an idea that will help me be more productive’.

Mental health is absolutely 110% a valid reason, and be sure your employer understands your circumstances, but in a way that makes it clear you still intend to progress your career. If you’re realistic (which is another point) you can step back and still progress your career. However, depending on your level of stress, flexible work may not be the solution you need.


6. Prepare and be confident

There’s a great quote by Richard Kline “Confidence is preparation. Everything else is beyond your control”. Prepare  and rehearse what you’re going to say before you go into the meeting, so you’re ready to tackle any push back and you feel confident.  Tell your employer what you want. Don’t go in there complaining that you’re overworked and tired, state very clearly what you want and why.


7. Raise it in the job interview

Remember not all jobs will advertise flexibility options, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You’ll need to make a decision when to bring it up, but follow some of these tips and the interview process might be the best time to table your request. 


8. Be Realistic and prepared to be flexible 

Depending on the type of flexibility you’re requesting make sure you are also offering a level of flexibility, especially if you’re senior and expecting career progression. Both sides need to be flexible and work around deliverables.

It’s possible that your first request will be declined, so make sure you’re armed with a backup plan or offer a trial period where they can test how it will work. Another push back is the fear of opening the floodgates, don’t let them win with this one, in most cases, there is no floodgate, again, consider offering a trial period first.


9. Have a career plan

Show your boss that working flexibly doesn’t mean you don’t have career ambition. Outline your plan of how you’d like to progress over the next five years. Maybe even take a case study of someone similar who’s worked flexibly and still managed to progress in their career.


10. Be accountable 

Set up a meeting one or two months after you’ve started your flexible work arrangement with your employer to check in and address any concerns, and talk through how it’s working. This will give you the opportunity to highlight what’s working well and fix what’s not.

Remember, flexible work doesn’t always mean less work; it’s working smarter. You don’t need to go the expense of having children to get flexible work, in fact, more people without children need to start demanding it! Show you are still career focused, and that you’re willing to be flexible too. Share your flexible work stories with us at