Asking for flex: a four-part guide
Asking for flexible working can be a daunting prospect for both incoming hires and established employees. A flexible working request can be equally daunting for businesses. In this Juggle guide we’ve looked at it from every angle, to cover requests from both perspectives and at both request points. We’ve split the following guide into four parts as it was a bit of a monster for a single blog post (you can download a PDF version here).
One thing stands out in every scenario: flexibility is about building and maintaining a relationship. Making it work is like making any relationship work. It requires good, honest communication (and that you keep communicating), that you remain adult and respectful – even when you don’t get everything your own way – and that you take nothing for granted.
And in a business context, a candid discussion of everyone’s needs not only facilitates a beneficial and smooth solution, it may even uncover new efficiencies and innovations.
Businesses: How to handle a flex request during recruitment
Evaluating and responding to a flex request is really about asking yourself two key questions and then working out what’s realistic. Since the likelihood of a new hire asking for flex is only going to increase as time goes by, we recommend not leaving this until the interview stage. Ask yourself these questions before you begin. Not only will you be prepared if it comes up during recruitment, but they may also give you a better understanding of the role itself, allowing you to hire with more acuity.
The first key question to ask yourself: what is the business goal behind this hire? That includes: what exactly are you hiring them to do, or hoping they will achieve? It should also consider their place in the company culture and how engaged you want or need them to be.
The next key question: what’s your budget (including wiggle room), and how are you planning to allocate it? This second part equates to: how senior does this hire need to be? Let’s say you’ve got a 3K a month hiring budget, your new hire is being brought in to acquire new users, and your business need is fairly high. Would you prefer a very qualified candidate, who will be able to start right away but will be expensive (you may not even be able to afford them full-time), or a less experienced but still able candidate who’s significantly cheaper but might need some time to find their feet?1
Once you’ve figured out what you need this person to do, how senior you need them to be and how your budget can be attributed you’ll be able to make a realistic evaluation of a candidate’s flex request – or make some plans in that area before you even start hiring, which would be our suggestion. Despite it being one of the main things candidates want in a new job – and something many would consider moving roles for – the majority of businesses still don’t use flexible working as a way to attract the best candidates. Doing so will make your role stand out.
If the subject hasn’t been raised by you, don’t expect for a candidate to do so until the final stages of the hiring process. Don’t take this personally; a candidate is unlikely to ask for flexibility until they’re fairly sure they have the job, and that makes perfect sense. Asking for flexible working represents a potential risk – candidates may be concerned that asking for it will harm their chances of securing the role, and so naturally wait until they’ve had a good opportunity to present themselves before bringing it up.
Realistically only you know what the requirements will be and how they will interact with your candidate’s request, so we’ll have to leave the final decision making to you. It’s important to be sensible about where your business currently is. If you really can’t meet the candidate’s flexibility requirements without damaging your business – and you can’t figure out a counter-offer than won’t do the same – then perhaps this simply isn’t the hire for you. But we have some final things for you to consider:
- Flexibility drives performance. Both by enabling the best candidates to work more efficiently, but also by exposing poor performance. Because your business will have to focus solely on output as a measure of success, those that have got by on obscuring their output (probably not deliberately, in our experience most people fall into bad habits by accident) will have fewer places to hide. If you’ve ever tried and failed to limit the number of useless meetings or gone through collaboration tools without ever finding one that fits you’ll know the kind of hiding places we’re talking about.
- Flexibility works both ways. It comes with time-management and scheduling responsibilities that the professional will need to commit to. Professionals are almost always aware of this (nobody wants to be bad at their work and everyone wants to make a strong start to a new job) but many businesses seem to view flexibility as a zero-sum game. It’s perfectly fine to negotiate, to make a counter-offer and attempt to reach a compromise that works for everyone.
- Flexibility breeds loyalty. If nothing else, professionals are aware that it might be tough to find another job that matches their needs, but there’s more to it than that. Creating a flexible working structure demonstrates that your business is dedicated to creating a positive working culture (a key element in hiring the top 10% of candidates).
- Flex is inevitable. *thunder rolls in the distance* Not to be overly dramatic, but change is coming. Although it might take longer for some sectors than others, eventually a business not offering some sort of flexible solution is going to be in the minority, which is going to seriously damage the quality of your hiring. It’s also going to damage the internal culture of your business. It’s a huge benefit to get ahead of the curve.
- Flex is for everyone. This can’t be a perk for new hires. Quite apart from the logistical nightmare you’ll create for your business it’s also going to lead to significant resentment among the rest of your staff. If you’ve got to the stage where you’re discussing it with potential hires you should already have evaluated the needs of your existing staff and begun implementing flex for them.