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This is a follow up to a previous question on appraisals.

I work as a software developer in a small IT company, working normal office hours.

Last year in my appraisal, I mentioned I'd like flexible hours, to allow me to come in say, an hour early some days and leave an hour early on others. My three bosses (who are the company directors) explained that they don't offer this to the development team, because the support team can't have it, as they are bound by the hours the phone lines are open.

However, one of my bosses said I could have this 'informally', i.e. I can occasionally exercise this if I ask permission first.

A couple of months later, I asked one of my bosses if I could leave early and was denied. We had a brief meeting to discuss it, and he claimed that it was never agreed that I could have this in my appraisal. The boss who agreed it was away on this particular day so I couldn't get him to back me up.

Since then I've been allowed to leave early on a few occasions, by sending an email to my bosses beforehand. However, I'd still really like 'proper' flexible hours where I don't feel like I'm having to ask them a big favour every time.

I'm really not a great negotiator and usually avoid confrontation, so what techniques or arguments could I use to try to convince them?

A couple of points:

  • The directors themselves regularly work flexibly.
  • From anecdotal evidence, it seems that many small companies do offer this, especially software companies, so my workplace could be in the minority.
  • Even when you work flexibly, it is your responsibilty to let people know in advance when you are not going to be available. Your boss needs to know whether you are there or not. It affects the business so the business has the right to know. They are not being unreasonable here. – HLGEM Mar 27 '14 at 14:04
  • Sounds like you need to find somewhere where you are treated as a person and not a number / statistic - as a developer you should be paid for your brain, not for the hours sat in-front of your desk. There are many places like this out there. It's a small company - they should value their employees as people instead of trying to act like large companies where you get paid more but are just a number. Without sounding too harsh - you should find somewhere else to work where you don't even have to worry about such silly things as this. – James Mar 27 '14 at 16:22
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There are a number of things you need to think about when making your request. The responsibility is on you to make the best possible case to your employer. You can only make one application within a 12-month period, so make sure you present a clear argument which includes the benefits for the business.

• Explain your position and your ideas about the changes you are hoping for

• Present your employer with more than one option and try to explore them together

• Try to understand your employer’s concerns and what sticking points they have and why (for example, they may not feel comfortable with home-working because nobody has ever done it before; you can still run through your ideas of how it would work).

• Discuss some of the easier areas first so that you can agree on some changes if possible before moving forward

• Don’t get stuck on one particular option, instead think about the result you want (being able to pick up your child etc). There may be other ideas or options which will come up during the meeting

• Think about what is really important to you and what you would be willing to change.

• Think about the impact on your colleagues and team, and how this might be managed: suggest a trial period if you think your boss needs persuasion.

  • Thanks for that. I will take all of these into account and prepare a detailed case for them :) – surfitscrollit May 23 '13 at 8:49
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It sounds like you are looking for either an exception to or a total change to a standing rule that exists because of a company perception on fairness. Reading between the lines, it sounds to me like your'e in decent standing in your organization - this rule hits you because it hits everyone.

What you're going to need here, most likely, is a change in corporate policy, which may very well require a change in corporate culture. Right now, your bosses perceive "fair" as "everyone works the same set hours". That's not insane - in a small shop, there may very well be a huge win to developers being available the exact same hours of support because there aren't that many employees, and developers may be the last echelon of support. In a larger shop, this is rarely true, as often support will work a 24X7 model while development works a flexible 9-5ish schedule. In the long run, development is usually benefitted most by having flexible but consistent core hours, so folks can meet, but also so folks can stagger their hours slightly... where support must be available to support customer needs, that's the top priority - not team communication.

But this is something that grows with a company and your company may not be there yet.

You can try helping them grow, but realize that while other developers in other businesses may get this benefit, you are asking for something in this company that no other developer has - so it's going to take some work - there's probably no easy way.

Tips for this:

  • Stay on why it benefits the company - certainly the self-focused reasons are the big drivers - who doesn't want a better work/life balance? But that's true for every employee, and unless you are saving the universe as they know it, the push for you to have special treatment is very low when they are faced with complaints from everyone else.

  • Address existing assumptions - the "support does it so development must" is a valid assumption --- to a point. The counter point is that developers are different - they do different work, they have different skills, they are paid differently, managed differently and serve a different function. What, exactly, is the benefit to enforcing the same rule - when your groups are large enough "because support would complain" is no longer a valid reason - push by asking questions and getting the discussion going.

  • Be ready with benefits - some could include the case that development works well when staggered across the clock - for example, large scale updates to databases and other large infrastructure is best done when there are not many staff members on hand. This is typically develpment work and it works well to have some team working off hours. There may be other good cases in your work.

  • Competitive hiring is a weak driver - "because people in other companies have it" is a weak driver, unless your management has had trouble recruiting. They know better than you do how hard or easy it's been to hire people. Companies have different models for hiring and compensation, and flexible work hours may not be a big win in your management's view - it definitely isn't a driver if the last 10 new hires have been very easy to find and recruit!

  • Offer options for small change - if you can make a case for benefits, offer a case for a test run - short duration, for example, of trying it another way. That's a lot less risky than a permanent change in policy.

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You and I know that rule makers get to make rules for everyone but themselves, so the fact that the management team gets to work flexible hours is irrelevant. They owe you a paycheck as long as you work there. They don't owe you anything else including equity and fairness, except as specified by law. Having said that, it appears that management is relying on you and the support team to do their work during business so that management can avail itself of flexible hours. Not fair? Tough.

"Small companies work flexibly". Not so sure about that: when you are a small business owner or a startup, you don't own the firm - Your customers and clients do: if a client calls you on Friday at 5 PM and he needs your firm to complete a task by the following Monday at 8 AM, what are you gonna do? Hint: you bend over and get it done. Unless you are not interest in keeping your client's business. I haven't worked anywhere where customers and client didn't act as if they owned my employer's business :)

You didn't say so explicitly but since you mentioned "the support team", it appears that you are part of the part of the support team, and the support team is expected to provide support to customers and clients during business hours. End of story.

Personally, I think the management has been pretty good to you in terms of providing you with some flexibility - they could have just as easily said "If we have to give this to you, then we have to give this to everybody" and spare themselves from the headache of having to work out who is available on what day of what hour on any given day. You have to ask for early leave ahead of time and more often than not, you are getting it. To me, given your responsibilities as part of the support dev team and the small size of the company, that's a pretty good deal.

Again: employers don't hire you because they love you, they hire you because they need you. If you are not available when they need you, then something has to give. Tell me, what would be the probability that I, as a manager would want to continue to require your services if I have to continuously wonder about your availability during business hours?

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You say that you're not a great negotiator, and that you want to avoid conflict. This tells me that you're lacking in your assertiveness. This is something you can train yourself to become better at, although not at short notice, and not without a persistent effort.

If you can't assert yourself, you'll never get what you want. You don't need to get mad to get what you want, but you do need to be able to voice your needs in clear and unambiguous terms that show you mean it.

There's a couple of ways to increase your assertiveness, but they all boil down to wanting to work on it. You can try a self-help type program or one that makes use of a coach of some sort.

Decide on the method that you think suits you best in becoming more assertive. Practice those techniques. This is much more a self realisation issue than a quest for arguments. If you can articulate what you need and why, then coming up with the proper arguments follows naturally.

Besides the self realisation, there's the fact that you're effectively asking for a change in company policy. The other answers deal with that quite nicely. My pitch on this is that you have a couple of routes here:

  • Ask for an exception. Provide the reasons why an exception would be necessary in your specific case. Don't fall back on the "well they have it too" type of arguments. They don't demonstrate why you need it.
  • Try to alter the policy company wide. You might be able to change policies through the channels that exist in the company like for example a company workers representation board (compulsory in the Netherlands for companies with more than 25 employees, but might be absent in your situation) or some other feedback mechanism that is in place.
  • If no formal feedback mechanism exists, you'll have to organise company wide support to somehow raise this issue with management. This requires assertiveness and leadership. (note that leadership and management are two different things) This option does assume there are more people that want it, and that it is possible to do this without causing problems in the way that the business operates

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