Fast Company: Don’t Let “Flex Just Doesn’t Work for Me”= “I Don’t Care If You Leave” Because It Will

Three times in the past couple of weeks I’ve heard a variation of the same story that should serve as a cautionary tale for all managers:

  • You have a highly valued, competent current or prospective employee who has used flexibility in the past to manage his or her work+life fit in a way that considers their needs as well as the needs of their job. They have a track record of success.
  • Said employee presents a well-thought out proposal for flexibility. They’ve covered all angles. Of the three scenarios mentioned above, one person wanted to reduce his schedule to deal with an ongoing health challenge more aggressively, with the goal of going back to full-time after he recovers.  Another individual had been promoted, and returned to a full-time role; however, she wanted the flexibility to work from home periodically.  And finally, the third person was being considered by a venture capital firm to be CEO of a company.  He wanted to telecommute two days a week as he was doing with his current job.
  • In all three cases, the response was, “No.” The initial reason given was, “I need you here.”  Then each employee respectfully asked if there were any business concerns that made the plan unworkable.  None of the decision-makers could cite a business-based rationale for their answer.  All they said was, “It just doesn’t work for me.”

Okay, let’s stop here for a minute. I have seen this same scenario play out over the years more times than I can count.  To these managers, their logic makes complete sense (at least at the moment):  If I just say, “it doesn’t work for me,” then everything will go back to the way it was.  Everyone will forget about any flexibility.  I don’t want change.  I like things exactly the way they are right now.  It works for me as it is.

In fact, in an alternate universe, these managers are often giving a compliment.  They are essentially telling the employee that he or she is too valuable, therefore, they  want them around and available.  They think saying “No,” will make their preferred status quo a reality.

Unfortunately, that’s usually not what happens.  Note to managers: just because you will it, doesn’t make it so.  Fair warning, you will lose.
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3 thoughts on “Fast Company: Don’t Let “Flex Just Doesn’t Work for Me”= “I Don’t Care If You Leave” Because It Will

  1. The scenario you so clearly describe reminds me of when I was a kid, and I’d ask my mom if I could sleep over at a friend’s house.

    “No” she’d say out of habit.

    Fortunately for me, my mom was a reasonable woman, and would often come back to me later and say, “I don’t know why I said, ‘no’. There is no good reason why you can’t go. Have fun.”

    It seems at times like we live in a “No” culture: from customer service to bureaucrats to employers.

    Let’s hope that there are more employers like my mom out there, lest they wind up losing to many good people!

    Cameron Phillips

    1. The habit of “No” in the face of change–even if that change benefits you in the end–is pervasive. My goal was to call it out so managers to think twice before pulling the “No” trigger too quickly. Like your mom!


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