From the Blog

How to talk to your manager about flexibility

We’ve partnered with TED speaker Tracy Brower, Ph.D., MM, MCR, for a Summer Reading Club – using her book Bring Work to Life as a guide. To dig in deeper, we’re answering your most pressing questions weekly on our blog. Here’s our first one, written by Tracy. Learn more and sign up on our reading club.

How should I talk to my manager about flexibility and autonomy to choose where and how I work? What steps should I take?

This is a common question and depends on a foundation of open communication with your manager, so be transparent and start building a constructive relationship. From there, a few steps will pave the way:

7 steps to talk to your manager about flexibility


1. Perform brilliantly. First, establish your own track record as a great performer. My research suggests that leaders are significantly more open to providing choice, autonomy and work flexibility to employees who are consistently high performers. 

2. Start small, and be specific. Once you show a track record of great performance, approach your leader with a request that’s small and specific. You could ask to work from home one morning a week, on the rare occasion when your child is sick (rather than having to call in sick yourself) or on the last Friday of each month. You could request to take a class that requires you to leave work an hour early every Wednesday. Your leader will be more open if she understands exactly what you’re requesting, rather than a general request to “have more flexibility” or “work from home now and then.”

3. Connect to the business. Describe how your ability to flex your work or your schedule will help you do your job and continue contributing to the business. For example, working from home one morning a week will allow you to focus and tackle your more contemplative work, or taking that class every Wednesday will help you build your skills so you can contribute to your new project. Be sure you’re clear about how your approach will be good for the business, not just for yourself.

4. Establish communication protocols. Clarify how you’ll be in touch while you’re working away from the office. Will you use email? IM? Phone? These may seem like no-brainers, but be explicit that you’ll stay connected even while you’re away, and your leader will be more comfortable with your proposal.

5. Set a timeframe. Set a timeframe for collecting feedback. Suggest that you’d like to try the new approach for a period – perhaps three months – and then check in to confirm it’s working from your point of view and your leader’s. 

6. Embrace the team. Let your leader know you’ll seek feedback from the team and will stay in close touch with your co-workers regardless of when or where you’re working. All good flexible work alternatives take the whole team into account.

7. Commit to contribution. Reinforce to your leader that your alternative working approach will have no impact on your performance and that your internal and external customers will still receive the same stellar responsiveness, follow-through and contribution they’re accustomed to from you. This kind of commitment carries weight in your proposal.

Finally, learn and adjust. As you move forward in your flexible work schedule, stay open to what’s working and what’s not. You’ll want to continuously monitor your efforts and their impacts on your teammates and customers – and make course corrections as necessary.

About Tracy Brower:

Tracy Brower Photo1 - How to talk to your manager about flexibilityTracy is a work environment sociologist, author, mother of two and Global Vice President of Workplace Vitality at Mars Drinks. She studies how humans affect their work-life and how it affects them back. Over her career, Tracy has had the opportunity to engage with many of the Fortune 500 companies.