We all know what flextime is, by now -- it's what some other lucky woman gets who works for IBM or Kodak or one of those other mega-companies that can afford to give its employees this kind of benefit.
It's what allows this other, lucky woman to decide which eight hours per day she wants to work, if you can imagine such a thing, so she can go in early but be home when her children arrive from school, say, or stay home until her husband's morning shift ends, then work later in the day to make up the hours.
In such companies, this lucky employee can actually decide which days she wants to work, as well: three 12-hour days, perhaps, with two days a week off -- a dream come true for most working parents.
But most of us don't work for mega-companies. We work for people like George and Martha, instead, who've owned their company for 30 years, employ just 19 workers, are just getting by as it is, and never did cotton much to mothers leaving their kids and going to work, anyway.
Flextime? You might as well ask George and Martha for a company car -- a Porsche -- while you're at it.
Unless you can present the idea in a clear, concise, complete, businesslike manner, that is, with the emphasis on the benefits of such a program to them, instead of you.
Here are seven steps you can take ahead of time that will greatly increase your chances of becoming one of those "other" lucky women:
* Conduct your own performance review. Employees who are an asset to their companies are more likely to get the nod when they ask for flexible hours. You don't have to be Employee of the Year, but if your work and/or attitude has been less than praiseworthy lately, clean up your act before you make your pitch.
* Gather all the information you can about how other companies handle a flexible hours policy. Call personnel departments of companies like yours and ask lots of questions.
* Make this a team effort. Ask your co-workers if they want a flextime program, then brainstorm with them about forming teams, working out schedules and what measures you could take to ensure adequate coverage during crises or particularly busy times.
* Check if flexible child-care arrangements are available in your community. Call local preschools, day-care centers and family care programs and ask if they'll take children early and late in the day.
(If you can't find flexible child-care, it might be time to investigate the feasibility of your company's sponsoring, or at least contributing to, the kind of child-care center that you need.)
* Document the advantages to your employer of workers having flexible hours: less employee stress, higher productivity, lower absentee and turnover rates, better morale and good public relations for the company, to name just a few.
* Suggest a trial program and keep an objective and meticulous written record of any problems that arise, as well as the program's benefits.
* Finally, keep in mind that what you're asking for is neither bizarre nor outrageous.
A recent survey by Illinois-based Hewitt Associates of 1,026 large companies found that nearly three-fourths now offer their employees flextime, and a new study of 2.4 million workers by Work/Family Directions in Boston found that at least one-fourth are taking advantage of flexible hours policies.
For more information about flexible hours and other family-friendly benefits, call the Work and Family Clearinghouse of the Women's Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor ( 827-5335) or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Families and Work Institute, 330 Seventh Ave., 14th Floor, New ++ York, N.Y. 10001.