negotiating for flex time

A reader writes:

I live in New Jersey and applied for a hard-to-fill job job in Maine. The company is very interested in hiring me for the position even though I have not visited them yet. All our conversations thus far have been by phone, e-mail, and Skype. We have already discussed benefits and salary. There has been a lot of turn over in this position due to the fact that it’s hard to adjust to life in rural Maine. I’m open to the idea of moving yet I realize that I will have to travel back to New Jersey every other weekend or so just to maintain property and relationships I have here. I’m thinking that a four day work week would be ideal for me – Monday to Thursday so that I can travel home some weekends and not be too drained. What would be the most timely and palatable way to present this idea to my possible new employer – before I visit them or after I have a firm offer ? Also, do you think they would be opposed to this idea?

Lots here. Taking these one at a time:

1. You should wait until you have an offer before raising this, as it will increase your chances of them saying yes. The idea is that you want to wait for them to want you before you ask them for something. On the other hand, if this is absolutely a requirement for you — a must-have rather than a would-like-to-have — then I think the more ethical thing to do is to mention it up-front so that they don’t go through the time and expense of bringing you in if that’s a deal-breaker for them.

2. However, if they’re getting a lot of turnover because people can’t adjust to living there, telling them that you plan to spend three days a week in New Jersey might not go over so well. It’s like saying that you basically don’t plan to ever adjust to living there, which doesn’t bode well for your longevity in the position. If I were them, I’d want you to either commit or not, but not do it halfway.

3. As for the idea of a four-day work week itself, some jobs lend themselves to that and others don’t. And just as importantly, some companies are open to it and others aren’t, no matter what you say. (There are also generally larger considerations at play, such as the fact that it might be fine for a couple of people to do it but not if it becomes widespread, and so therefore they have to say no to everyone.) But you won’t find out until you ask.

4. And last, just a side note: You haven’t even met these people in person yet. It might not be safe to assume that they’re “very interested” in hiring you. It’s not uncommon to discuss salary and benefits at this stage, so don’t read to much into that. And you probably shouldn’t be sure that you want to work for them yet either; all kinds of important things come out when you meet in person that you should stay alert for.

Good luck!

{ 6 comments… read them below }

  1. stutefish*

    Not being a manager, I thought that "lots of turnover because people have a hard time adjusting" would be an argument in favor of flex time, along the lines of "your current approach doesn't seem to be working very well–have you considered flex time as a better way to attract and retain the best person for the job?"

    Am I just being naive?

  2. Anonymous*

    Hi everyone. I asked the question initially. I did e-mail my potential boss with my request and he said that they are open to the idea of flex time, at least for the initial few months. I like stutefish's idea and will mention that point when I discuss the matter further with him if need be.

  3. Anonymous*

    "(There are also generally larger considerations at play, such as the fact that it might be fine for a couple of people to do it but not if it becomes widespread, and so therefore they have to say no to everyone.)"

    This seems like a bit of a cop-out for inflexible organizations. It would be pretty simple to set specific requirements for flex-time, such as 1) tenure, 2) demonstrated ability to work from home on an infrequent basis to begin with, 3) approval of direct supervisor, 4) job description that doesn't require physical presence in the office 5 days a week, etc. If the company can't handle widespread flex-time, then there must be reasons why, and it's easy enough to establish restrictions on flex-time based on those reasons which would screen out some but not all employees who want flex-time. Best practice would seem to be to tailor policies on the actual needs of the corporation/position than a one-size-fits-all policy that smacks of lazy management.

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