Well, if you are a monkey swinging from tree to tree in the jungle, flexibility is key. You need to be flexible in order to grab the next branch to continue on your way and you need the branch to be flexible enough to hold your weight or it will snap.
In the workplace, or during an interview, flexibility is a far different thing. 14 years ago, when I first started in recruiting, I had never heard the term “flexibility” or “flexible hours” or “flexible work schedule” come up in conversation. I did hear candidates ask about the ability to leave work early if there was an emergency such as when a child was sick or the ability to work from home during a snow day.
Today, people think that they are entitled to work when they want, where they want, and how they want. They disguise this entitlement by using the term “flexible schedule” which sounds innocent enough, but is a loaded term. If the employer is not able to meet their demands, then that employer is “inflexible” and the company is potentially labeled as a bad place to work.
This week, I had a candidate who asked the client during the interview if she could work a “flexible schedule”. This question was asked during the first 5 minutes of her interview. The client was quite surprised by her question and asked for clarification. With a straight face, the candidate said, “I need to leave by 3pm each day.” The client was shocked. The client later related to me that she would not have minded a discussion on work hours later in the interview process to address any special needs that the candidate may have, but the timing and the severity of the restriction on time from their core business hours instantly put the candidate in an unfavorable light in her eyes.
Work is just that, work. You are not doing the company a favor by working there. You are applying to a position to gain employment to earn a living. You are offering your expertise to solve a business issue or need for the company. They do not owe you anything. It’s work for pay.
The appropriate time to discuss any special needs that you may have is not in the first 5 minutes of your first interview. The best time to approach the topic of “flexibility” is during the salary negotiation phase of the hiring process. Even then, you need to have realistic expectations and stay flexible yourself. If a company has core hours, see if there are alternative solutions you can explore before asking your employer or potential employer to change their policy to accommodate your needs. See if you can carpool to use HOV lanes or if a neighbor can watch your children for an hour after school so that you do not need to leave early. When all else fails, then approach your employer. Remember that you also earn trust over time with an employer. Often, flexibility is given to trusted employees after they have proven themselves in their current role. You should not expect to be given the same consideration right away when starting a new job as employees who have been with the company for a long time.
Flexibility is a 2-way street. Consider your request for “flexibility” before you ask for it, or you just might find yourself falling from that branch that you were so sure could hold you.