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How to negotiate for family friendly working habits

Flexibility is a key consideration when returning to work. We talk you through the best ways to get the accommodations you need at work – from asking for a trial period to finding solutions to staffing issues

The right to request flexible working has been a welcome innovation for parents, but as with anything, there can often be gaps between best practice and real life. Mumsnet’s discussion forums hum with conversations about the best way to make a request, and how likely it is to meet with approval. There are also a fair few discussions focused on the disappointment of having a request turned down.

Mumsnet's founder, Justine Roberts, says: "As the conversations on our forum show, individuals can interpret the turning down of a request as deliberate obstructiveness on the part of the employer. But as the CEO of what is (these days) a fairly big organisation, I know that from the other side of the table, managers can feel just too busy, too overwhelmed or too worried about complexity to think creatively about how to accommodate a request or come to a satisfactory compromise. Some of the answer to this lies in training for managers and a more flexible corporate culture – but meanwhile, what can staff do to maximise their chances of being successful?

One of the best tips is to offer solutions. Don’t give your manager a reason to label your request as a difficult, risky problem. Put yourself in their shoes: what might worry them about the request? What staffing issues is it likely to raise? What can you do to help find the solution?

Perhaps a job-share would be a genuinely useful innovation in your role; maybe someone else in your organisation has long wanted to move into the area that you work in, and this would be a great opportunity. Maybe you can recommend an external hire who would be a fantastic job-share partner for you.

Perhaps you can show that working from home during quiet periods would increase your productivity; maybe your clients would be happy to hold meetings during core hours only.

Maybe a key competitor or high-performing organisation in your field can be shown to be embracing flexible working; maybe you know someone in a similar role who works flexibly and can talk you through how they pull it off.

The more creativity you can apply, and the more solutions you can provide, the less likely your manager is to want to push your request under something heavy and leave it there."

Woman leading a work meeting

Other key tips from Mumsnet users include:

  • Keep your request short and positive, especially at the beginning; you can always provide more details later.
  • Make it clear from the start that you want to come to a solution that works for everyone, not just for you. You and your manager are on the same side, after all.
  • Don’t threaten to leave if you don’t get what you want (not many employers respond well to blackmail) – but do have a back-up plan. The best employers are starting to recognise the importance of flexibility – and they’re advertising on Mumsnet Jobs.
  • If cover for clients or customers is a concern, can you offer some sort of everyday contact, even on days that you’d be mostly off duty? Could you do a quick check on your email early in the day or when the US opens for business? Could you do a regular catch-up in the evening? A commitment to spend an hour a day checking in on urgent or fast-moving work might offer the reassurance your manager needs.
  • Employers are only obliged to consider the specific request that you put in. So if you’ve asked for a three-day week and been turned down, try asking for a four-day week (if that would work for you, of course).
  • Ask your manager for a summary of the key responsibilities of your role (if you don’t already have this in your job description) and think of ways to demonstrate that you can still meet all of these responsibilities while working flexibly.
  • Offer to work flexibly for a trial period. Ask your manager for a clear set of targets and things they need to be reassured about, and then show them that you can hit it out of the park.
  • Ask a trusted colleague or friend with relevant experience to look over your request and try to anticipate any objections or concerns.

Most importantly, don’t view it as a battle; you’re not going to war with your employer, you’re proposing a win-win scenario. Human nature (and the law) being what it is, you need to place much more emphasis on the benefits for your employer than on the benefits for you as an individual. Remember that your manager is a human being who probably already has an inbox full of knotty problems, and concentrate on making it easy for them to say ‘yes’.

And if all else fails, and you come up against a manager or organisation that just refuses to move into the 21st century, the time is probably ripe for you to take your talent and commitment elsewhere.

Mumsnet is working with HRZone and Womba on a special family friendly month, to bring focus to issues around flexible working and returning to work after parental leave. Check out the rest of the materials here.

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