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Flexible work schedules can solidify job loyalty

The 9-to-5 workday is about as passé as typewriters. People telecommute from home. They cram a 40-hour workweek into four days. They arrive and leave well before rush hours.

These flexible work arrangements are increasingly seen as a way for companies to hang on to their best employees. In a recent study from the Families and Work Institute, a non-profit research group, more than half of workers said they didn't feel they had enough time for themselves, their partner or their children.

Even so, flexible work arrangements are not so widespread that you can expect to land one no questions asked--especially if you're new to a job.

For example, an institute study found that 39 percent of a sample of large and small companies allow some employees to work a condensed workweek at least part of the year. When it comes to all or most employees, however, the option is available at only 10 percent of companies.

So the burden is on you to prove you will be just as productive no matter where and when you work.Here's how to make your case:

-- Know the protocol

Some companies have a formal policy about flexible work arrangements, including rules on how and when you can ask for a modified schedule. There may also be an application that you need to fill out to make a request.

At Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm based in McLean, Va., new hires are expected to work at least two years before requesting a flexible work arrangement.

"Someone should come in and learn the culture of Booz Allen first," said Natalie Jackson, the company's work-life program specialist. But managers are allowed to make exceptions.

Even so, career advisers caution against vacating the office desk too quickly. Face time is still a key way to build rapport with managers and be thought of for projects that will help propel you toward promotion.

"There has to have been some time to build trust," said Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions.com, which offers advice on how to customize your work schedule.

-- Argue the business angle

Whether or not there is an official application, you should stress the business case in your proposal, not your personal motivations. Although spending more time with your children may be important to you, your boss is more concerned with how you'll perform your job.

To fine-tune your pitch discuss the idea with your manager first. Your annual review may be a good time to broach the subject, Katepoo said.

"Plus, you'll get a better sense of how things are going," she said. "Sometimes your assessment doesn't always match" the supervisor's.

-- Be realistic

Within a single company some managers may be receptive to a flexible work arrangement while others may need more convincing. In any case, many companies will only approve a trial period first.

And it's up to the boss to decide whether the new schedule is working or not.

"It's not an entitlement," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. "It has to be the right fit for both the company and you."

So it may not be surprising that of employees with access to flexible work arrangements, some 39 percent forego the option out of concern it will jeopardize their career, according to the institute.

-- Ask upfront

One way to feel more secure about a flex schedule is to ask about a company's policy before you take a job. Though it's not a question older generations may have asked during an interview, many of today's graduates are not shy about it.

"We have a lot of candidates ask about flexible work arrangements, and that's a good thing" said Jackson of Booz Allen.

She added: "Flexibility is key. Traffic is horrible and people want to spend more time with their children or go back to school part-time. We definitely see an employee's loyalty increase when it [a flexible schedule] is made available."

E-mail Carolyn Bigda at yourmoney@tribune.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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