Not happy at work? You’re not alone.
But before you walk away, make a list of changes that would make you happier. It might come in handy. According to recent research, it’s common for workers to ask their employers to make changes to accommodate their individual needs. With a little negotiation, you could design the job you want.
“In one given company, at least 20% of people would have some form of idiosyncratic deal that’s formally negotiated with the manager,” says Denise Rousseau, professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, and one author of the study published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology that examined how 187 health care workers customize their jobs. She calls these negotiations “i-deals” for short, and they’re are a growing trend in offices around the world because they make for happier, more reliable employees.
“Companies are increasingly looking across different benefits to give employees more choice, especially millennials, who expect to be able to pick their own cell phone plan and pick their own 401K,” says Ben Dattner, an executive coach and organizational development consultant.
But it’s not just about cash. “Surprisingly far fewer than I thought of these negotiations involve money,” Rousseau says. Instead, companies are recognizing that giving workers non-monetary perks–like flexible work hours–can be worth even more than a pay raise.
“People want work-life balance,” says Michael Molina, chief human resources officer at coaching organization Vistage. “I’ve been able to acquire a number of top-notch people, and they’ve left much higher paying roles where they had to work 60 or 70 hours a week. We attract that kind of talent because they want to contribute 100%, they want to add value, but they also want a life outside of work.”
Here are the three most common work negotiations, according to Rousseau:
1. Taking On New Responsiblities: These are the specific day-to-day tasks of a job. “For example, let’s say you’re interested in growing skills internationally, or want to take on more international clients or projects you think are energy related,” says Rousseau. “That requires a negotiation.”
The payoff: Workers who designed some of their work tasks had better performance reviews, and reported their work as more enjoyable.
2. Obtaining More Flexible Hours: As previously mentioned, this means flexible hours and the option to work from home, which can be important for people with young children or long commutes.
The payoff: Rousseau and her fellow researchers found that people with flexible schedules and the option to work from home were less stressed about work.
The downside: They also rate themselves as lower contributors over time. “It’s very easy for people with these arrangements to feel at an arm’s length from the company,” Rousseau says.
3.The Opportunity To Develop Your Skills: These are opportunities at work to learn and develop one’s professional skills by attending courses, training, or tackling challenging assignments.
The payoff: Employees are more committed to the organization and work longer hours. “Now their job is very valuable,” Rousseau says. “They’re able to learn things, and that’s hard to replace.”
Once you’ve decided you want to make a change at work, it’s time to sit down with your boss. For this, timing is everything. It’s best to ask when you’ve already done something of value for the company that may justify reciprocation.
“You want to do it in a sort of positive solution-seeking way rather than a negative adversarial way,” says Dattner. “The wrong way is to say, ‘This isn’t fair, I’m dissatisfied, you need to give me more.’ You wanna go to your boss and say, ‘I’m loyal to this organization.’ You don’t wanna be painted with the brush that you’re just out for yourself.”
- Are you an employee in good standing?
- Are you willing to take up the slack or deal with problems the deal might create for others? “You’re creating exceptions that could have unintended consequences,” says Rousseau.
- Do you agree to revisit the arrangement after a while to see how it works and then learn from it? “No deal should be made in perpetuity,” says Rousseau.
You can increase your chances of success by learning from others who have already negotiated. “Find the others who have i-deals,” says Rousseau. “Sometimes people will actually use their surveillance to find out which bosses grant i-deals and move to work with that boss.”
However, a warning against companies waiting for workers to take the initiative–not everyone feels comfortable asking for what they want. “It could lead to some unfairness where an equally competent person is getting less because they didn’t think to negotiate or ask,” says Rousseau.
Some companies, including Vistage, are already confronting this head-on with regular check-ins and offering employees the chance to grow their skills by attending conferences. “As managers and leaders we have to be proactive,” says Molina. “We should be thinking about, ‘How am I going to retain this individual?'”
It might. Ask anyway. Not only does it make you seem more assertive, Rousseau explains, oftentimes the company will compromise and offer you something different.
“A lot of us don’t like to hear no,” she says. “But I think there’s a certain degree of respect to people who do seek to negotiate.”