When to Give Up Money for Job Flexibility — And When You Shouldn't


Woman working in cafe


June 23, 2024 at 10:14AM UTC

We repeatedly hear that workplace flexibility is important to employees, especially (but not only) for those with care-taking responsibilities at home. The fact that women tend to seek out and work in more flexible jobs than men may be one reason that there is a gender pay gap — but this is a complex topic. Yesterday was Equal Pay Day (the day until which the average woman has to work until she makes the same amount as the average man) and part of the reason for the gender pay gap is due to the fact that women tend to occupy more part-time roles than men in the workforce. 

While flexible working can imply fewer working hours, that is often not the case at all. That's why we’re exploring what flexible working really means. In a recent poll by Fairygodboss, approximately 3/4 of our community said they would trade the ability to work flexibly for less compensation. While you may be willing to make this tradeoff, what exactly does it mean, and more importantly -- should you be making it?

When people talk about flexibility in work, this can mean at least 3 different things: (1) Official policies that provide the ability to work on a schedule with reduced hours; (2) Flexible working in terms of the location where you work; and (3) a flexible culture where there may be “standard” office/working hours but the ability to adjust hours occasionally due to other commitments and obligations. We believe these 3 paradigms are very different from each other, and not all of them need to involve a compensation trade-off.

Official Flexible Working Policies

Some employers allow part-time work schedules or phased-in work schedules (e.g. after maternity leave) which means that the definition of “flexibility” is simply working fewer hours. While it is certainly fair to expect that you will receive less compensation for fewer working hours, be careful of what many women have experienced when they accept these reduced hours. Some find that while they accept a package that looks fair initially, they end up working more hours than they expected or agreed to, which means they end up deserving more than the pro-rata pay they end up receiving. In other words, they are getting “70% of the pay for 90% of the work”.

There are a couple things to do in order to prevent — or address this common situation. One is to discuss the possibility of working “over-time” even when on a part-time or reduced schedule when you are initially discussing this new work-schedule. Is your manager or company willing to accept that you may end up working more hours than you both initially anticipated? If not, you should make it clear that this may put you in an awkward position where you want to finish your work or go the extra mile to make sure something is complete but your compensation incentives aren’t aligned with doing so. In a non-confrontational way, simply ask what you think is a better solution — they may have dealt with scenarios like this in the past. Even better, you can suggest a compromise such as reviewing the agreement after 3 months to see whether the balance of reduced hours and pay are still in-line with reality.

A Flexible Working Culture

Sometimes a company simply is flexible in culture. There may be no official policies in a HR handbook, but there is an understanding that if you need to leave early for a school event, or to take care of a personal issue before work one day, nobody will mind if you achieve your deadlines and accomplish your work in the greater scheme of things. In other words, this kind of flexibility is not “official” in any way, but is something that your manager and colleagues understand and support. In these cases, it’s not clear that you need to (a) explicitly ask for permission, especially if this is common practice, and (b) accept any reduction in pay. In other words, you are are being treated like an adult and work in a supportive environment where flexibility and accommodation for the rest of your life is built into the culture of your employer. Occasional events and interruptions in your regular workday schedule shouldn’t require any trade-off in pay.

When Flexible Working Means Remote Working

Some employers allow telecommuting or working from home for a certain number of days per month or week. Others allow you to do this on a case-by-case basis depending on your role and manager discretion. For those of you who are interested in doing this, there is no reason to accept a lower salary or compensation if you are working the same number of hours (but simply from a different location). We agree with what flexible working expert Pat Katepoo advises “Be on guard: while you’re in that ‘thrilled’ and grateful zone, you’re also in a vulnerable position to compromise your pay.”

Time is so valuable and there’s no doubt that it’s so important to many of us that we would be willing to accept a tradeoff in pay. Sometimes it is absolutely the right thing to do, but being aware of when it may not be necessary is important so don’t sell yourself short!


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