December 21st, 2010 | 1:00 pm

Three Reasons Flexibility Stinks – and How to Fix It

filed under Expert Answers

cali-and-jodyContributed by Cali Ressler & Jodi Thompson, creators of the Results-Only Work Environment

Does this scenario sound familiar?

Employee: “I have a dentist appointment on Wednesday at 2pm so I’ll be leaving at 1:30.”

Manager: “But I thought with your new schedule – Fridays off – you could make all of your appointments for Friday.”

Employee: “My dentist isn’t open on Fridays, and anyway, I’ve had this appointment for 6 months.”

Manager: “Well, I really took a big risk with the team letting you go to a 4-day workweek. Perhaps you could look for a dentist that’s open on Fridays.”

Can you find anything in the above scenario that gives any hint of concern for RESULTS? Does the manager trust the employee to deliver results? Why is the employee informing the boss that s/he has a dentist appointment? Why does it matter? Why is the employee on a schedule anyway?

The flexible schedule is an oxymoron.

The above scenario depicts the first problem with flexibility: It’s limited.

Limited Flexibility: Employees are so happy to get a flexible schedule until they realize that they’ve gone from one box right into another. And, they still have to feel guilty about any deviation. They still have to ask permission, or ‘inform’ the boss, if life does not fit neatly into their new box. Furthermore, they are the topic of resentful, jealous and envious co-worker conversations like “I wish I could be on a 4-day workweek” or “The rest of us can’t get our work done with her off on Fridays.”

The second problem with flexibility is that it’s NEVER fair. NEVER.

Limited Access: Get ready for more incoming paternalistic behavior. Flexibility ‘arrangements’ are up to the discretion of management. Heaven forbid you get one of ‘those’ managers that doesn’t believe in flexibility, but instead promotes people who put in a lot of face-time. And, if you don’t get to the boss first with your 60-page flexible schedule proposal, you’re out of luck. The manager is now trying to manage everyone’s flexibility and soon implodes. And then it’s ‘everyone back in the office.’

The third problem with flexibility is that it often comes down to someone making a career tradeoff.

Career Tradeoffs: Take care of your aging parent or put in a lot of time in the office to secure that promotion? Pick your kids up from daycare early or leave them until 6:30pm so you can show the boss your dedication? Volunteer to read at your child’s school so you can be part of the education process, or rush to the office at 6:30am to get there before the boss – coffee and sales report in hand? Oh, the games we play to get noticed and not get passed over for promotions.

It’s a GAME, people. It’s not about who is getting results or getting the job done. It’s about what looks good, not what makes sense.

Flexibility stinks. The problem is that we’re trying to manage flexibility instead of letting it manage itself. And, we’re operating under the tired, old 1950’s belief that collaboration, teaming and actual work is best accomplished in an office setting. We believe that the best relationships are built face-to-face. We believe that teams have to sit together, have pizza parties together, and conduct weekly team status meetings to move work along. We believe that if someone is ‘teleworking,’ they’re not really working as hard as the rest of us. We believe that flexibility is a privilege, not a right.

Flexibility stinks. It stinks because nobody is really focused on results. Everyone is focused on TIME. Who’s getting more time off. Who’s getting to come in late or leave early. Who gets to work from home. Who gets more vacation. Who gets more than ME.

How We Can Fix Flexibility?

A novel approach would be to get crystal clear with people about what they are being paid to accomplish for the organization. Get crystal clear on how to measure the outcome. Get clear about deadlines and timelines. Every job can be measured if you put some thought into it. Saying some positions – like knowledge workers – can’t really be ‘measured’ is just lazy. We’re all getting paid to deliver some kind of value.

Then, get out of the way. Employees will make common sense decisions about how to get the work done. And, if they can’t get the work done because they sit home all day and eat bonbons, perhaps they shouldn’t be working for you.

The conversation must change from flexibility to results. Flexibility is a smokescreen. Flexibility is a strategy that sucks the life out of all of us.

Contributed articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Glass Hammer team.

1 comment

  1. It’s NEVER fair. NEVER. « Management Briefs

    […] Manager: “Well, I really took a big risk with the team letting you go to a 4-day workweek. Perhaps you could look for a dentist that’s open on Fridays.”” – Read article […]