A flexible work schedule allows you to work hours that are different from the typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday routine. You may come in later and leave later, work your 40 hours in only four days, or work from home, for example.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more employers are offering flexible schedules and recognizing the benefits of flexible work schedules for both employees and the company. Research shows that flex schedules can improve employee performance and motivation on the job, and may reduce absenteeism, tardiness, and turnover.
So how do you make flexible scheduling work for you and your employer? Find out what different flexible schedules look like, whether a flexible schedule might work for you, and how to propose and ensure its success for everyone involved.
- A flexible work schedule may be flexible in hours, offer a compressed schedule, or offer teleworking opportunities.
- Some jobs are more easily performed on a flexible schedule than others—but even those may be possible with compressed schedules or differing shifts.
- Getting a flexible work schedule may require permission from your manager or a company-wide policy change.
- Be prepared to put your request in writing and pilot your flexible schedule.
Definition and Examples of a Flexible Work Schedule
A flexible work schedule provides greater hourly or location flexibility to the employee, the employer, or both. A flexible schedule can help manage family demands such as dropping off kids at school, or allow you to enjoy a personal pursuit, such as skiing on Wednesdays.
In Colorado’s ski towns, some employers have long touted “powder day rules”—if it snows more than 6 inches, employees can take the day off to ski. Similarly, bike shops might offer “trail research” days for bike riding, according to Aryn Schlichting, founder of job search website Mountain Careers, and human resources deputy director for Eagle County, Colorado.
“A happy professional is a productive professional,” Schlichting said. “Expressing the things outside of work that you do to feel energized and rejuvenated is important in establishing a healthy workplace culture for managers and contributors alike.”
Here are common flexible work schedule examples for a typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday.
|Flexible hours||Starting or ending the workday earlier or later than usual; different lunch hour length or timing||Starting the day at 9 a.m. and finishing at 6 p.m., with a one-hour lunch, five days a week|
|Compressed work week||Working more hours per day for fewer days per week||Starting the day at 8 a.m. and finishing at 7 p.m., four days a week, with Friday off|
|Teleworking or hybrid||Remote work, or a mixture of remote and in-office work||Working in the office Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and working at home on Tuesday and Thursday|
In 1967, the first documented flextime program was established in West Germany, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which promotes flexible schedules to reduce traffic-related air pollution.
When Flexible Work Schedules Work Best
Flexible schedules don’t work in every industry, profession, or job. Here are some general guidelines to determine whether a flexible work schedule could benefit you and your employer.
Jobs Where Flexible Schedules Work
Flexible schedules are available across many jobs, although the schedules may differ. For example, many office jobs may be suitable for flexible hours, while others that involve working in teams or with the public don’t work as well.
A flexible schedule may work best if the arrangement:
- Allows you to do your job, including any supervising you’re responsible for
- Doesn’t adversely affect your clients or people you work with
- Gives you access to the equipment, technology, or other resources you need
- Doesn’t present any information security threats
- Won’t negatively impact your motivation or ability to focus
Jobs Where Flexible Schedules Don’t Work
Truly flexible scheduling may be challenging in situations where you have to be in a certain place at a certain time, such as customer service and some production or manufacturing jobs. Schlichting noted that “powder days” aside, mountain communities haven’t been at the forefront of flexible scheduling in general due to workplace culture and guest-facing jobs.
A flexible schedule may not work if the new schedule:
- Reduces customer service in any way
- Creates overtime costs or other costs
- Burdens your coworkers with additional responsibilities
- Means you have a harder time managing those you supervise
“That's not to say a company can't get creative and offer multiple shifts to choose from based on preferences, to maintain coverage while still offering flexibility,” said human resources consultant Jessica Donahue, owner of fractional HR firm Adjunct Leadership Consulting. She spoke with The Balance by email.
“Many companies, such as Amazon, are now touting a 'build your own schedule' option to offer flexible schedules that work best for the employee while still meeting the employer's needs for coverage.”
Internal professional cultures can also impact how many employees have flexible schedules, making them feel like they shouldn’t pursue generous options, even if available. For example, even when their employers offer flexible schedules, management consultants in one study tended to reject them. They felt that taking those options would stigmatize them as not being committed to their work.
How To Ask Your Boss for a Flexible Schedule
Check Company Policy in the Employee Handbook
“Generally speaking, most companies offer flexible work arrangements for everyone within the company or certain teams as part of a 'flexible work' policy, or don't offer it at all,” Donahue said.
Some companies may have flexible work schedule policies in writing, but your department’s head could be uncertain about implementing that policy, according to Schlichting. If so, knowing there’s a policy in place can encourage you to put in a request.
Discover the Decision-Maker
In smaller organizations or companies with a flexible policy, you will likely need to speak directly with your manager, Schlichting said.
If your company doesn’t have a flexible scheduling policy, prepare to discuss the topic with leadership. “When seeking approval for a policy change, your audience is the CEO or the broader executive team,” Donahue said. “It won't matter how strongly the HR team or employee population believes in flexible work if you cannot convince the executive team to buy in and make it happen.”
Make an Appointment
Get time on the calendar, and give advance notice regarding the topic. “No one likes surprises,” Donahue said. “Giving the decision-maker a heads up gives them a chance to think ahead about how they may or may not be able to accommodate the request.”
Create a Proposal
If you are speaking with executives, research and pinpoint the angle for your flexible work argument and why that angle matters for your company, Donahue said. For example, if the company struggles with turnover, provide studies showing the correlation between flexible work and employee retention. If costs are a concern, hybrid schedules could cut expenses by offering the opportunity to downsize physical office space.
Incorporate the company and team goals into your request, whether or not a policy is in place. If your company prioritizes productivity and going to meetings, and you want to shift your schedule earlier, point out how you can accomplish more during the quieter hours but still attend important midday meetings.
Schlichting recommended creating a written proposal outlining your suggested flexible schedule. Bolster your case by thinking of potential challenges ahead of time, along with possible solutions. For example, describe any arrangements in advance for technical support if you’re working later than the tech team.
Stay in Communication
Suggest a three-week pilot period to test the new flexible work schedule and adjust as needed, Schlichting said. “Regardless of whether there’s enthusiasm, ask if you can revisit it without necessarily saying yes or no at the moment. Try it for three weeks and reevaluate.”
Stay in touch with your team and management to address any challenges or misunderstandings. Remember that your management could decide to end or change your schedule if it doesn’t work out for everyone involved.
Example of a Flexible Work Schedule Proposal
First, indicate what type of flexible work arrangement you seek. The most common types include flexible hours, compressed work weeks, telecommuting or hybrid work, or a combination of these options.
Then, lay out what your proposed schedule would look like, with a one- or two-week example. Here’s a sample of what it might look like.
|Proposed Schedule: Week 1|
|Day||Start Time||End Time||Location||Total Hours|
You may also want to briefly address potential issues and solutions if you haven’t already done so. These could include:
- Equipment needed
- Coworkers/team support
- Scheduling conflicts
- Telecommuting equipment or needs
- Performance metrics and management
- Organizational or team responsibilities and goals
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, floating a flexible work schedule policy change or request with your manager will go well, and you’ll soon be working a new schedule. However, if it doesn’t work out, you may need to look elsewhere for a job with a flexible work schedule.
Look for companies promoting flexible policies in job postings or on their websites, Schlichting said. During the interview, ask if any current employees work flexible schedules and what that looks like. Even if the employer uses buzzwords such as "work-life balance," read reviews on Glassdoor or get the lowdown from current employees to ensure they're actually doing what they’re saying.
If no such policy is mentioned in the job posting or the first interview, wait until the second or final interview and ask the employer whether they support flexible work culture—or if they’d be open to a proposal.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How does holiday pay apply when you’re working a flexible schedule?
Paid holidays depend on your employer’s flexible schedule policies. For example, imagine a university offering compressed schedules. If a holiday falls on your compressed schedule day, you might need to make up the two-hour difference between an eight-hour holiday and the 10-hour workday you were scheduled for through accrued leave or working.
What companies have flex schedules?
Many companies offer flexible schedules. One example of a large employer is Amazon. Itswarehouse jobs come with choices of shifts. Amazon’s delivery arm, Amazon Flex, allows you to use an app to create a schedule that fits you.
Manufacturing company 3M’s “Work Your Way” program allows some employees to create their own schedules, including hybrid options. Other 3M positions at the plants may need to conform to a scheduled shift, such as 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. To find out whether the company you’re interested in has a flexible schedule, ask the point of contact at the outset.
Trish A. Petak and Gabbie S. Miller. (2019). “Increasing Employee Motivation and Organizational Productivity by Implementing Flex-Time.”
Environmental Protection Agency. “Transportation Control Measures: Work Schedule Changes.” Page 3.
Environmental Protection Agency. “Transportation Control Measures: Work Schedule Changes.” Page 2.
Singapore Management University. "The Stigma That Keeps Consultants From Using Flex Time." Page 2.
Amazon Jobs. “Find Shifts That Work for You.”
Amazon Flex. “Driven by Always Being There for Storytime.”