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Want flexible working or better benefits? Here's how to negotiate with your boss

Today's job market is candidate-driven, meaning workers have more bargaining power when it comes to negotiating perks. Recruitment experts share their advice on getting what you want out of work.
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Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor on
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Image: shapecharge/Getty

When people think about negotiating a better deal at work, the first thing that often comes to mind is salary.

But with thousands of tech and IT roles currently available and salary growth showing signs of slowing, jobseekers are in a powerful position to negotiate benefits and perks beyond pay that suit their work-life preferences.

"Negotiating benefits outside of a salary is becoming more and more common in today's job market," says Alec Rahman-Jones, managing director of recruitment agency Phaidon International.

"With the current skills shortage, employers are typically more willing to have discussions and negotiation talks with candidates."

Haggling for benefits or perks with your employer can be daunting, especially if what you're after isn't something that's offered as part of your contract, or if it's something that might shift the work dynamic with your colleagues – for example, requesting reduced hours or flexible start or finish times.

Setting the bar

Vicki Salemi, career expert at jobs site Monster, says people shouldn't feel guilty about negotiating for better pay or better perks. On the contrary, asking for a better deal stands to benefit both you and those you work with.

"If anything, and you successfully negotiated a new job to work four days per week, you may be setting the bar for other employees to negotiate their own way to that arrangement, too," Salemi tells ZDNet.

SEE: The four-day work week is coming: Here's what it could mean for you

With financial pressures biting, now might actually be an ideal time to push for more allowances around flexible working. That is to say, employers might feel more comfortable in giving someone an extra day off work or the freedom to work remotely twice a week than they would be signing off a big salary increase – though that's not to say that you shouldn't push for better pay.

Rebecca Henderson, CEO of HR services provider Randstad Global Businesses, says candidates should always consider negotiating for better terms, especially in high-demand roles. "Women, in particular, need to push back on initial offers because we continue to see a persistent pay gap between men and women," she says.

"The U.S. Census Bureau reported that women make just 83 cents for every dollar a man makes, and part of that gap is due to women not negotiating for more. It's important for them to keep this in mind."

Think about the long-term

According to FlexJobs' Work Insight 2022 Survey of over 1,200 people currently employed, remote work is considered the second most important element to compensation and benefits packages, ranked only behind salary.

Toni Frana, career services manager at FlexJobs and Remote.co, says that allowances for flexible working can provide greater long-term benefits than a small bump in pay. After all, while a higher salary might look good on paper, benefits that promote a better work-life balance or continuous learning and development can bring far greater value.

"Negotiating additional perks and benefits can mean so much more to you in the long run than a simple salary boost," Frana adds. "It's important to always keep the bigger picture in mind."

Fortunately for workers, the shift in power balance is forcing companies to rethink the benefits they offer and tailor them more towards individuals. As such, employees may have higher chances of gaining flexibility or other non-monetary benefits in their role than an increase in pay.

So, how exactly should employees prepare to broach such a conversation? Above all, be prepared and know exactly what it is you're asking for, says Salemi, and prioritize according to your main wants and needs. "Focus on your lane and negotiating what you need to feel fulfilled and productive in your role, detach from the outcome as the negotiation conversation is between you and your boss or the employer," she says.

Being specific also helps. For example, if asking for a flexible work arrangement, what does that specifically look like: working four days each week, or working three days at home and two days in the office? "Get granular, so when you speak to your boss, you are clear and confident," Salemi adds.

A good way to enter the conversation with good bargaining chips, particularly when it comes to salary, is to research what is being offered elsewhere in the sector. You will then have a solid argument, backed up by market data, to support your case.

Then comes the task of actually speaking to your manager. Start by asking to schedule some time for a meeting. "You can start with [saying] something like, 'I really enjoy working here and wanted to talk to you about re-arranging my schedule...', or whatever the ask is," says Salemi.

"Explain what you're seeking, how it can be a value-add to the organization and highlight your accomplishments to show all of the value you bring to the team and the organization."

Timing is key

For employees who are negotiating additional benefits for their current job, the ideal time is usually a few months in advance of their actual review, says Frana. Often, raises and benefits are calculated from the existing budget, which usually includes the compensation budget for the entire company.

"If you wait until during or even after your review to negotiate additional benefits, you run the risk of being told 'no' strictly because the money has already been allocated," she says.

To help make their case, Frana advises employees to come armed with facts and figures that help to back up why they are worth these additional benefits. "Create a document that describes all of the things you've accomplished and the impact this has had on the company," she explains.

"How much time or money did you save them? How happy did you make clients? Quantifying your worth will go a long way toward getting approved for those additional benefits."

SEE: The future of work: How everything changed and what's coming next

Employees should also recognize that negotiations won't always be successful, and usually involve a little bit of give and take on both sides. Sometimes it might just be a case of timing; in which case, candidates might benefit from raising the request with their manager again a few months down the line.

Know when to walk away

But employees should also determine what they are not willing to sacrifice. That way, if it becomes clear that their employer can't deliver, workers can at least make an honest and informed decision about whether it's time to move on.

"My advice is to take a holistic view of the current situation and, if it doesn't match your needs and leave you fulfilled, then it might be time to assess opportunities that exist elsewhere," says Danny Stacy, senior manager of employer insights at Indeed.

"If salary is the most important thing to someone, then it's useful to know that, in most cases, the way to secure the best pay increase is to change jobs."

But what about candidates starting at a new company, or even moving into a new career? In this case, Frana says it's imperative to start negotiating the benefits only when you have a written offer in hand.

"Hard facts and statistics are far more effective during a negotiation," she says. "Once you know what you want and what you're willing to give up, you can conduct the research you'll use to support your counter-offer."

Rahman-Jones agrees, adding that anyone thinking about exploring new opportunities should first determine their key requirements when it comes to the type of work they want to do and the type of company they want to join.

"Once they have done this, they can begin to prioritize benefits and perks from most important to least important," he says.

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