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How flexible are you at work?

Covid-19 continues to have had a profound impact on the work world. More than ever, the term ‘flexible’ is critical to organisations, teams and individuals wanting to perform at best-practice. Both employees and employers benefit from understanding that workplace flexibility—responding to changing circumstances and expectations—is a two-way street.

As an employee looking for flexible arrangements—regardless of the reasons why—you’ll want to demonstrate that you’re adaptable and willing to change course. Indeed, flexibility is one trait most employers look for in staff.

This expert article introduces you to “Bob” and how his lack of flexibility led to a stalemate with his boss. The article also provides tips on how employees can demonstrate willingness to be adaptable.

Case study: Meet Bob

Bob isn’t meeting the demands of his role for a host of reasons, some personal and beyond his control. He approaches his boss to discuss options for working things out. While Bob knows his inability to perform to full capacity is an issue, he doesn’t want to lose his job. His boss doesn’t want to lose Bob either because he has great corporate knowledge and excels when at the top of his game. Bob’s team also appreciate his skills and want him to stay.

In a face-to-face meeting, Bob’s boss presents options that could work in the short and medium term, to give Bob time to sort his personal issues.

Bob listens carefully to the options, but isn’t enamored with them. So what does Bob do? He stands firm and announces that while he wants a solution, it must be one that’s perfect for his needs.

The boss asks Bob to be proactive and put suggestions on the table. Bob says: “It’s not my job to work out options. I’m the employee not the employer.”

Without even realising it, Bob has caused a stalemate.

What should Bob do next?

Bob needs to think through his language and approach. He needs to see that certain phrases paint a negative and non-flexible approach, including:

  • “That’s not going to work for me.”
  • “That’s not something I want to do.”
  • “I shouldn’t be expected to do that.”
  • “That isn’t what I was hired to do.”
  • “I’m not happy with that suggestion.”

Faced with the stalemate, Bob realises he needs a more flexible orientation. He remembers that employees with a flexible attitude keep organisation’s objectives front-of-mind and support organisations to achieve them.

It occurs to Bob that he needs to put his “all” into showing his boss he’s flexible and a lateral and creative thinker. He can’t sit and wait for his employer to dish up a solution on a silver platter.

How does Bob become more flexible?

Bob considers the following ideas, in the context of his personal circumstances and organisational needs. He weighs the pros and cons of each.

  1. Offer to take on a new project, even if temporary and involving tasks not 100 per cent desirable.
  2. Compromise with traditional 9-to-5 hours, by changing start or finish times, and putting in a bit of overtime to meet deadlines.
  3. Discuss condensed schedules, such as a four-day work week.
  4. Assess work patterns, like job sharing or split shifts.
  5. Assess work locations, like a combination of working from home and in the office.
  6. Offer to learn new skills to support an upcoming project requiring surge capacity.
  7. Offer suggestions on adjusting schedules so priorities are still met.
  8. Suggest ways some tasks can be temporarily delegated to others to ease pressure.

The outcome

After thinking through options—and his initial attitude—Bob became more accommodating and not solely preoccupied with his own needs. His boss appreciates the change and how Bob is now flexible.

After more discussion, the two parties agree on duties and a schedule that positions Bob to meaningfully contribute to the organisation while taking the time he needs to sort matters out.

Key takeaways for you, as an employee

  1. Workplace flexibility isn’t only for your benefit, as an employee. It’s about meeting your needs and the needs of your organisation, as much as possible from both sides.
  2. Being closed-minded isn’t a great starting point for discussing workplace flexibility with your boss.
  3. Thinking through options in advance positions you to have more fruitful discussions with your employer. It also shows you’re strategic and proactive.

Want to learn more?

Tips for achieving work-life balance

Six ways to help you excel at work

Eight skills employers look for

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