|CNN's Gerri Willis shares tips on how to make changes in your work week. (Aug. 3)|
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
A four-day work week may make you a better employee. According to a recent study, employees accomplish more when their schedules are relaxed.
Despite this, fewer employees are taking advantage of it. In fact only 56 percent of employees get these perks, down from 64 percent three years ago, according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management.
How can you become one of the few? In today's 5 tips, learn how to negotiate some flex time with your own company.
1. Check the books
You may not even know that your human resource department already has flexible spending policies on record. More employers are offering these benefits because they realize the changing work demographic.
"The idea of a work/life balance is much more important to younger workers than it ever was with baby boomers," says Jen Jorgensen of the Society of Human Resource Management. "Companies are looking at retention issues."
If you would like to make your 9-to-5 more elastic, she recommends talking to the HR department first.
2. Evaluate your needs
If you have the kind of job where you sit by a computer all day and you're constantly on the phone and Blackberry, you may want to think about the benefits of telecommuting. With telecommuting you can work from anywhere, but you need to have the right kind of technology.
If you live in a very urban area, like Los Angeles, Chicago or New York City, you may think about flexible schedules that allow you to come into work a few hours later, and leave a bit later to avoid rush hour.
If you're a stay-at-home parent and you want to remain in the corporate world, consider job sharing. This is a situation where two part-timers make up a full time job. Or, if you just like the idea of having Fridays off, you may want to consider a compressed week. This means you work a 40 hour, 4-day work week.
3. Try a test run
Before you can even suggest some schedule wiggle room, you need to have a track record.
First, highlight the projects and accomplishments you've achieved. If your manager trusts you, it will be much easier for you to make your case.
Ask for a pilot run. This is a no-risk situation, says Susan Seitel, the president of the online resource company Work and Family Connection. Think of it as an experiment.
When you first approach your manager, try to make it as casual and lighthearted as possible, says Joe Robinson, the author of "Work to Live: A Guide to Getting a Life."
And start small. You may first suggest that for the next three months on Tuesdays and Thursdays you come in a little later and leave a little later. Set your goals and see if you prefer the new schedule. Check out www.workfamily.com for more information.
4. Sell yourself
After the trial run is over, it's time to you to convince the company that your flex time will be good for their bottom line. So polish up those shoes and ask for a meeting.
But you also want to have all the data at your fingertips. List all the reasons you feel a flexible work schedule will improve your performance. Show examples from your own experience. Have a few success stories under your belt.
It's important to keep the situation positive. Don't complain about your situation. You always want to keep in mind how the organization would benefit.
Don't tell them what you deserve, says Seitel. "Your employer isn't in business to make sure you're well taken care of."
Try not to approach your manager at the beginning of the week, says Robinson. "People are usually less stressed out by Thursday or Friday."
If you do feel more comfortable with a written proposal, check out www.workoptions.com. This is an online resource for people who want to negotiate a flexible work arrangement at their current job. It offers a customized flexible schedule template for $30 that you can use during your presentation.
5. Be realistic
Flexible schedules are not for everyone. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that while 1 in 4 employees are eligible for flex time, only 1 in 10 employees are enrolled in company programs. News of layoffs, outsourcing and a tighter job market does influence what companies offer employees.
If you're worried about losing face time with your manager and getting passed up for that promotion, it's not a good idea to be ask for schedule accommodations.
"There is a danger here," cautions Jennifer Openshaw of the Family Financial Network.
If you see any indications that layoffs are coming, hold off on your request. If you see a trend in employees becoming contractors, it's a sign that you shouldn't ask for any special treatment.
See if anyone else in your company is on a flexible schedule, she recommends. If flex time isn't a theme in the company, you are putting yourself at risk. You don't want to stand out as an employee who isn't as productive.
A flexible schedule may have worked back in the dot-com days, but today if you take advantage of work schedule flexibility, you might be the next out the door.
And remember, if you are granted a more flexible schedule, that still means you should be in frequent, even more frequent contact with your manager. Make sure you're not outta sight, outta mind.
Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.