by Sarah J.F. Braley | December 01, 1997
It's sounds so enticing, doesn't it? Creating a work schedule that easily fits your family's busy schedule, your commuting schedule or, perhaps, even your sleep schedule. But not every job can be shaped to your needs, and some office cultures aren't prepared -- or willing -- to offer flexible hours. Can you make flextime work for you? Consider this advice, gleaned from management professionals nationwide.

Before you decide to march into your boss' office and demand release from the nine-to-five schlep, take your company's temperature on the subject. Luckily, as the issue of malleable work hours has become one of the focuses of business in the '90s, a growing number of companies have instituted flextime arrangements. But that doesn't mean it will work with the requirements of your particular job; it also doesn't mean a company without such a policy won't be open to considering the idea.

The boss may be jealous. Early studies of companies offering flexible work schedules show that employees were reluctant to take advantage of the option because of the stone walls thrown up by middle management. It's important to have the support of those above you in the chain of command in order to make the arrangement work.

Different work hours shouldn't hurt your chance for advancement. If possible, determine how other employees on flextime are treated. Do managers scoff and imply that people with alternative schedules won't grow within the company? Do higher-ups suggest that those with flextime schedules are not wholly committed to their jobs? Do others perceive that employees on flextime are getting special privileges? Again, this is where corporate support comes in. You don't want to arrange a new schedule only to have it put the brakes on your career.

Keep things on an even keel. Whether your superiors are supportive or not, going in with an impassioned plea to see your children's youth before it slips away, or any other emotional basis for your flextime request, may undermine your chances for having it approved. It's best to present an intelligent plan that answers all the questions your boss might have: How will you complete all your work? How will you and your colleagues stay in touch? How available will you be when you're not in the office? How will you and your superiors measure whether the experiment is working? Ideally, your argument should demonstrate how changing your schedule will help the company. Remember, most organizations approve flexible hours on a case-by-case basis, so what makes sense for one colleague might not work for you. Once you come to an agreement, get all the details in writing.

The flextime experiment has been known to go terribly wrong. Here are some snags and how to handle them.

You're unavailable when the office needs you. In order to negotiate your new work schedule, you will probably have to agree to be somewhere near a phone in case there's a crisis. But others may still have trouble tracking you down. To resolve this, offer to get a cell phone or a beeper, or set a certain block of time during your off hours when you will call in. For flextime to work, you have to be flexible, too.

You're not getting as much work done as you used to. Unfortunately, this could be a sign that flextime isn't right for you. Maybe you're finding that you spend more time tracking down suppliers and other contacts than you thought, and they just aren't available when you need them because you get to the office much earlier than they do or you leave much later. On the other hand, this problem could just be a matter of restructuring when you do each task. Save phone calls for when you know most people are at their desks and do your paperwork, writing and research during those quieter hours.

Don't raise your walls too high. If during a review session your supervisor points out some ways your schedule isn't working, going on the defensive is a sure way to jeopardize your flextime arrangement, and you may find yourself back to the old nine-to-five routine. Stay calm, be reasonable and evaluate your supervisor's observations objectively. Give measured, intelligent responses. It's okay to ask for some time to come up with workable solutions. Handle the matter responsibly, and your flextime will likely become even more productive.

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