Creating and Reviewing a Proposal

For Employees: Creating a Proposal
For Employees and Managers: Equity and the Role of the Reason
For Managers: Evaluating a Proposal
If Health-Related Issues Emerge
For Employees and Managers: When a Proposal is Not Approved

For Employees: Creating a Proposal

Although many employees have been working flexibly for a year or more, it is still new for others. Previous versions of Harvard’s Flexwork Guidelines required employees to submit a proposal when seeking a flexwork arrangement. During the pandemic, this requirement was suspended, but managers and employees were encouraged to use the flexwork form to document their own agreed-upon work arrangements and best practices. As we emerge from the pandemic, a written proposal can play a new role. As units define their preferred frameworks, employees and managers may want to adjust arrangements, new employees may wish to make proposals, and existing employees may want to propose different arrangements within the context of their unit’s defined choices.

Employees and managers may follow these steps in ways that make the most sense for them and their teams:

  • Review the definitions of the various components and frameworks of flexwork and the six principles of flexwork at Harvard.
  • Refer to your bargaining unit agreement, if applicable, to review any flexibility provisions if you are a union member, or a manager of a union member. If there is a conflict between the language in one of Harvard’s union contracts and these flexwork guidelines, the union contract language prevails.
  • Download the Flexwork Form and use it as a template or guide for your own thought process.
  • Address how, when, and where work will get done. Under optimal conditions, once approved and implemented, flexwork should have either a net-positive or net-neutral effect on business results and the work environment. Your proposal should address the potential impact on teammates, customers, and other stakeholders. For help thinking through the degree to which the various aspects of your job are flexwork-ready, see “Leading and Managing in a Hybrid Work Environment Toolkit.” It offers several approaches to evaluating how, when and where work can be done depending on the relevant work functions.

Note: When health may be at issue
If you are seeking a flexwork arrangement to manage a health situation for yourself or a family member, you should consult with HR to determine if your situation would be more appropriately considered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Massachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave Law (PFML), or should be explored as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees and managers are encouraged to learn more about reasonable accommodations from University Disability Resources (UDR).

For Employees and Managers: Equity and the Role of the Reason

Previously, Harvard’s Flexwork guidelines emphasized that the manager should not ask about an individual’s personal circumstances or base their approval or denial of a flexwork arrangement on the employee’s reason for the proposal. The principle of respecting an employee’s privacy and evaluating a proposal on its business merits holds true during and after the COVID-19 crisis. To the extent that child care, schools, and elder care services continue to be altered or unavailable, some employees will continue to have challenges balancing work and dependent care responsibilities. Managers are expected to be familiar with the range of wellbeing- and family-supporting programs and policies -- including special considerations for dependent care and family obligations -- available to employees, and point all team members to these programs, even if caregiving or other personal issues have not been specifically raised. They are also encouraged to work with their employees to find pragmatic ways to accomplish job responsibilities, along with personal responsibilities, whenever brief or more lengthy disruptions occur. Framing this as a mutual responsibility to address important demands on both sides of the employer-employee equation will encourage honest and practical conversations. Managers and employees should touch base with local HR to ensure that new arrangements make sense in the context of local policies and practices.

Depending on the nature of the relationship between a manager and employee, it may feel comfortable and desirable to discuss the circumstances that may be driving a flexwork proposal. In many other cases, employees may be quite private about making personal disclosures, or managers may feel uncomfortable knowing about personal motivations.

However receptive to discussing the personal motivations for proposals, managers must avoid asking employees to provide a reason as part of the flexwork process and avoid making judgments if an employee discloses them.

Why? Keep in mind that discussions of personal considerations inevitably call on our biases. While it may seem obvious to a manager that one reason has more validity than another (e.g., because of a belief that school is more important than training for a marathon), fostering a diverse and inclusive environment makes it critical to avoid pitting one person’s values against another’s.

Prior to the public health emergency, it was easier to focus only on the realm of workplace needs and work performance goals and doing so meant that managers were less likely to be put in a position to arbitrate worthiness. Now, however, conversations about personal reasons for seeking flexibility are taking on new dimensions. External forces such as the need for physical distance and social infrastructure breakdowns have led to shared “reasons” for flexibility and new motivations for cooperation and understanding. Approaching all conversations about flexibility with respect, sensitivity, and pragmatism can support the success of a single employee and the team as a whole.

For Managers: Evaluating a Proposal

All employees may propose a flexwork arrangement, and each proposal should be evaluated on its merits. Managers and supervisors are responsible for considering proposals objectively and fairly but are not obligated to grant approval (unless otherwise directed by the University or their individual school).

Employees wishing to propose a change from their department’s standard arrangement are encouraged to develop written proposals using this form, and managers may wish to bookend a proposal with conversations. A conversation might begin by setting expectations on the individual or team level about the proposal process. It is ultimately the manager’s decision to approve or decline a proposal. If a proposal is declined, however, managers must provide a carefully considered reason for the decision. It is strongly encouraged that managers consult with local HR before denying a proposal.

Managers and employees should be in touch with local HR to make sure that the proposed arrangement makes sense in the context of local policies and practices, and this is especially important as we transition out of the public-health emergency and experiment with new ways of working long term.


Note: If Health-Related Issues Emerge

If issues of health or disability are stated directly or appear to emerge during conversations with an employee about flexibility, managers must contact HR to determine if the employee’s proposal for flexwork should now be considered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or the Massachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave Law (PFML), or should be explored as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees and managers are encouraged to learn more about reasonable accommodations from University Disability Resources (UDR).

Managers may refer to the following steps in ways that make the most sense for them and their teams. Additional in-depth discussion on the role of the leader can be found in CWD’s “Leading and Managing in a Hybrid Work Environment Toolkit.”

  • Setting expectations: Managers determine the criteria they will use and ensure that all team members understand these criteria. Managers and employees alike may go here for a summary.
  • Consider each employee’s proposal: Does it address their work priorities? Has the employee reviewed and affirmed that they meet the Information Security requirements for working off campus? Has the employee considered how a flextime arrangement might affect collaboration with others? Has the employee shown that job duties (including those that affect others) can be performed fully under the proposed arrangement? Does performance history show that this employee can manage the arrangement? Have you had candid conversations about anything that might make you hesitate to approve the proposal? Are unaddressed issues of trust – about the employee, the manager, or the team – complicating the decision?
  • Consider a group of proposals together, if applicable: If several employees have submitted proposals, consider whether they work together. If they leave gaps, consider a group meeting to bring up concerns, make adjustments, and find innovative solutions among the group. For example, one employee who wants to work from 7 AM to 3 PM may leave the unit with an afternoon gap until another employee points out that they would be just as happy to work from 10 AM to 6 PM. It may not be possible to stay completely in sync during these times, but team conversations can go a long way toward heading off unintended negative consequences.
  • Approve or decline based on business reasons: Proposals are expected to explain in detail how the proposed arrangement will support a department’s business goals and objectives. Managers will assess whether a proposal will have a net-neutral or net-positive effect. A small inconvenience in one area may be outweighed by a greater benefit to the unit overall, even if only realized in the long run. Managers must keep an open mind regarding flexwork, but not agree to changes that could undermine business goals or unreasonably burden other staff.

For Employees and Managers: When a Proposal is Not Approved

Managers must give concrete feedback about why a proposal is declined to demonstrate that the decision is a well-considered one. It may be because of a lack of sufficient detail about how, where, and when work will get done; broader considerations of the team as a whole, a history of underperformance on the job; or simply that the job itself is not suitable for the kind of arrangement proposed by the employee.

Whatever the reason, it is important to have candid conversations about flexwork. If such conversations are not easy, both employees and managers should contact their local HR office for coaching on having challenging conversations, and remember that Harvard’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can also provide consultation to managers and employees alike. HUCTW members should note that if a proposed arrangement is not approved, the proposal may be explored further in consultation with local HR and HUCTW. You may refer to Article VI of the HUCTW bargaining unit agreement for detailed information.

Next section: Flexwork Basics