Why Flexibility Won’t Work Unless Your Employees Are Your Partners

(This post is the featured article in the May issue of the Flex+Strategy “How To” Make Flexibility Real newsletter.  )

Individuals can’t manage their work+life fit without some degree of flexibility in how, when and where work is done.  Conversely, flexibility in the way work is done can’t become a targeted business strategy if individuals don’t know how to use it.  And most don’t.

For individuals to use flexibility deliberately and thoughtfully, they need to have the right mindset, tools and training. Only then they will be able to capture and direct that flexibility toward a solution that meets their personal needs and the goals of their job.  Most can’t.

Creating this critical employee-employer partnership is the reason I wrote my book Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You (Riverhead, 2005). It’s also why we are the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc., to reinforce clearly the importance of both sides of the equation.

The truth is that a corporate flexibility strategy won’t ever be more than a feel-good policy or program if employees don’t know how to manage their unique work+life fit (not balance) and vice versa.

According to the Towers Perrin 2010 Global Workforce Study, employees know they are responsible for their own well-being but fear they don’t have skills to handle role .  They want more freedom and flexibility in their work, but need support to enable new level of self-management

But very few organizations prepare their employees to be effective flexibility partners.

Recently I presented to a group of HR professionals and asked “how many of you train your employees to develop, negotiate, and implement flexibility plans that are a win for them personally, their team, their manager and the business?” Only 1 person out of 50 raised their hand.

This group is not unusual.  According to World at Work’s 2011 Survey on Workplace Flexibility “most organizations do not specifically train employees to be successful” with flexibility.

Why is this?

Historically, the theory has been that we need to train managers (I say theory because according the same World at Work study manager training on flexibility isn’t happening either).  Managers do play a key role in the partnership.

Managers lay out the vision, provide the information and set the tone.  This creates the environment that supports the ongoing conversation and leads to solutions which benefit the business and their people. But managers can’t come up with the specific work+life fit answer for each employee, and putting them in that position is the fastest way to make him or her dislike flexibility.

If flexibility training for employees does exist, the focus tends to be on “how to” fill out a formal flexibility request form and worksheet.  Again, that’s important but only one small piece of the puzzle.

What’s the answer? (Click here for more and to read this month’s case study, “The Employee Who Learned ‘How,’ Stayed and Thrived.”)

Join us!  Friday, May 13th at 12 pm EST during the “Employee as Partner: Flexibility’s Missing Link.” Click here to register, and  here to have the Flex+Strategy “How To” Newsletter delivered monthly via email.