I’m wondering how much I can reasonably push back when a manager refuses to consider a hybrid-work schedule.
When we were 100 percent remote in 2020, I successfully did my job and my team had a record year. I was commended for my above-average performance even while juggling unreliable child care along with the stress and logistics of a global pandemic. We were pressured to come back when we hit the one-year mark. I caught COVID, as did many of my teammates, and I was pressured to work (remotely) while sick, which I did with great success as well. Though I’m still troubled that I was expected to continue to work while sick, I’ve more than proven that I can be trusted to turn in top quality work when I’m remote.
When I asked for a permanent hybrid schedule of two days remote and three in person, my manager acknowledged how successful I was but still refused based entirely on her own preference to work in person and some vague but undefined “opportunities” that may or may not be real. She pointed out that I already have flexibility because I can work remotely “in an emergency” and said that should be enough to achieve the work-life balance I am looking for. It’s not. My office hours are long (7 a.m.–5 p.m. plus somewhat common overtime) and my commute is a nightmare. I spend more time in my car every day than I do with my child. I have once again dropped all my hobbies and have to spend every weekend catching up on all the household things I can’t fit into my weekdays. Working remotely opened up my world so much that being back in the office full time has been absolutely miserable.
Do you think it’s worth pushing back? I’m talking with recruiters about positions that would allow actual flexibility and wouldn’t require an “emergency” to be remote, but I’m wondering if I owe my (generally good) manager a heads-up that I am willing to leave over this. I don’t want to seem like I’m threatening to leave just to get my way, but I’m not sure she really understands how strongly I feel about it.
As a general rule, it’s smart to be cautious when you’re considering letting your manager know that you might leave over a work policy. No matter how strategically you word it, some managers will hear it as a threat and bristle at it or will figure you have one foot out the door, so if they need to make cuts on your team, you go to the top of the list. To be clear, this is wrongheaded: Managers should want to know when the terms of your employment are no longer meeting your needs, so they have the opportunity to try to keep you (if that’s something they want to do). But enough managers react less than optimally to this kind of conversation that you have to proceed with caution when you’re contemplating it.
That doesn’t mean you can never do it, though. The more your employer doesn’t want to lose you, and the more willing you are to leave over it, the stronger the position you’re in for this discussion. If your sense is that your manager values you and that you have other options out there (like those recruiters you’ve been talking to), it’s reasonable to give it a shot. And in fact, at this particular moment in time, more people than usual are well positioned to try: The job market is strong (in many fields, at least), and employers are having trouble hiring (often especially if they’re uncompromising on in-office work). If either of those things is true in your situation, it adds strength to your position.
In talking to your boss, you can specifically cite the job market, explaining that you like your job and want to stay but you also can’t ignore the fact that you’re being approached frequently about more flexible jobs you’d feel irresponsible ignoring. You could use wording like “My preference is to stay here. I really like my job, and I like working with you, and so far I’ve been turning the recruiters down. But with so many of them approaching me for remote or hybrid positions, and that being something that’s really important to me, I feel like I need to pose the question directly to you: Is a hybrid arrangement something you can offer as well? Or would I need to leave to get that?” Note that this language underscores that (1) you’re not looking to leave and, in fact, would prefer not to, but (2) you are in demand and have other options, and (3) many of those options are offering a key thing you want.
If your manager directly asks if you would leave over this, you could say, “I’d prefer not to, but being able to work remotely some of the time is really important to me.” If she presses you for a yes-or-no answer, you should respond, “I don’t have plans to leave — again, I really like my job — but I’m hoping we might be able to reach an agreement on this.” Any halfway-savvy manager should be able to read between the lines and understand there’s a good chance she’ll lose you if she doesn’t budge.
From there, it’s up to her. Even if she says no, this will have been a useful conversation because knowing for sure that you’re not going to get flexibility from your current job means you can make decisions for yourself accordingly.
One thing to keep in mind: Even if your manager agrees to let you work from home some of the week, it sounds as though she opposes remote work in general (and telling you that you already have flexibility because you can work remotely in an emergency … doesn’t say great things about where she stands on the issue). If that’s the case, even if she does approve your hybrid schedule, there’s a risk you’ll be penalized for it in some way — for example, not relied on for high-profile projects, not seen as being as part of the team as much as you were previously, or even not getting as high of a raise as you would have gotten otherwise. There’s also a risk that, if she remains fundamentally uncomfortable with remote work, she could change her mind at some point, and that could happen when the job market isn’t as favorable as it is right now. So you have to factor in what you know of your boss and weigh those risks as you decide what to do.