Even though the majority of families today want and need some form of flexibility given the multiple demands they juggle, only about a quarter of all employers in this country offer formal flexible work programs.
But this does not mean you must abandon your desire to pursue a flexible work schedule. It simply means that the onus is on you, not your employer, to initiate a conversation about your needs. In many cases, the decision is left to your manager to make on a case-by-case basis -- regardless of whether or not there is a formal program in place.
Assess what you truly need and be creative in your thinking. Flexible work arrangements come in all shapes and sizes -- there isn't one specific mold to fit every need or lifestyle. Some people might want to work from home one day a week, while others would prefer a compressed schedule. Determine what you really need and why.
Be a strong performer on the job. Flex time is an accommodation, not an entitlement. Slackers and clock-watchers won't get the benefit of the doubt. Good workers and solid, reliable producers are more likely to have requests approved. So your first step is asking yourself if your performance is truly outstanding. If it's not, focus on improving it before asking for a special accommodation.
Here are several scenarios to consider:
Condensed workweek. If your standard week is 40 hours -- typically broken into five days, eight hours per day -- could you perform your position in four days at 10 hours per day? Even if this isn't possible every single week, you might persuade your boss to consider it even just once or twice a month, which would give you a free weekday to tend to personal and family needs.
Telecommuting. Instead of reporting for duty to your employer's offices five days a week, can your position be performed from your home one or two days a week? This would require you to have -- or your employer to provide -- whatever equipment and supplies are needed for your job, including dedicated phone line, computer, high speed Internet access and so forth. This eliminates a commute and typically leads to increased productivity among already-motivated employees.
If you're easily distracted or you don't have dedicated space at home to work from, this might not be a viable option. Many employers won't allow this type of arrangement if you're using it in lieu of baby-sitting services. They want to ensure that you're putting in your full hours even from home.
Vacation by the hour. Even though it's more difficult to keep track of time used, some employers are starting to allow workers to use their allotted vacation time by the hour instead of by the day. This enables working parents to attend school functions or doctor's appointments without missing a full day of work. The benefit to employers is better productivity -- more work gets done if an employee is present for part of the day than not at all. In other cases, employers sometimes allow staffers to convert unused sick days into vacation days.