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Inside the May "Make Flexibility Real" Newsletter

Welcome!  This month we're focusing on the employee, or more specifically, the Employee as Partner: Flexibility's Missing Link.  

Ever wonder how an employer or manager is supposed to come up with a flexibility plan that meets the unique needs of the business and achieves the work+life fit goals of each employee?  The truth is they can't.   


For strategic flexibility in how, when and where work is done to become part of the culture, employees must actively partner with their manager and team.  But most don't know how. If we want to make flexibility real and meaningful, this needs to change.  


New!  Make Flexibility Real Webinar Series: "Employee as Partner: Flexibility's Missing Link" Friday, May 13th from 12-1 pm EST. Click here to register.  


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"Make Flexibility Real" Topic of the Month 


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


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 the 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 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?


For employees to be effective partners who meet their manager and team halfway, they need to:  

  • Understand the way work has transformed over the last decade and, therefore, why they must take control of the way work fits into their life. They can no longer let it all just "happen," because it won't. 
  • Have the mindset that considers their personal needs but also thinks strategically about what the business requires.  
  • Recognize and move beyond the common roadblocks that will threaten to derail them, such as inflexible personal definitions of success, fears, and in-the-box-thinking.      
  • Know how to create a complete vision of work+life fit success that includes their job as well as personal realities such as personal finances, caregiving supports, etc., and 
  • Be comfortable engaging in the ongoing conversation with their manager, their team and their customers that makes flexibility work for everyone.     

Other key questions to consider include what's the best venue in which to share this information?  How often?  In what format(s)?  And, how do you measure success?   


We will consider these and other key issues on Friday, May 13th at 12 pm EST during the "Employee as Partner: Flexibility's Missing Link." Click here to register. Join us!  


"Make Flexibility Real" Case of the Month   

The Employee Who Learned "How," Stayed and Thrived


(Note: this case study features a woman resetting her work+life fit because she is having a child; however, this shouldn't infer that flexibility is just for women or mothers.  It's needed and wanted by everyone.)


A few years ago, I ran into my old friend Jane.  At the time, Jane was a successful executive in a financial services company, and was nine months pregnant with her third child.  When I asked her how everything was going she surprised me by saying, "I'm overwhelmed.  I can't do it. I'm


"Quitting?" I responded. "Why not first propose a plan for more flexibility that will help you manage through this period?"  She looked at me and laughed, "Are you kidding?  They won't go for that.  I have no choice." 

Thankfully, I was able to explain, "No, you do have a choice and I going to show you how to not only create a plan that's going to work for you and your boss, but I'm going to show you how to make it succeed once it's approved." 

We met at Starbucks and walked through each step together.  We talked about how she needed to shift her mindset about her job and the other parts of her life in order to see the possibilities.  We discussed how she needed to redefine success and challenge her fear that her boss will say no, and that working differently for a period of time will kill her career.  Then, we put together the plan.


The next day Jane walked into her boss' office still convinced the answer would be "no," and before she spoke two sentences, her manager said, "Sure.  In fact, I worked flexibly for a period ten years ago when I had my children."  Jane was stunned, but relieved.  After thanking her boss she said, "You know, I almost quit.  Had I not run into my friend who helped me figure out an alternative, I wouldn't be here.  It might be helpful if we gave other people this information."


Unfortunately, that broad sharing of knowledge never happen. You have to wonder how many more valuable people might have stayed if they'd gotten the same "how to" guidance that Jane received. And how much money (and aggravation) the company would have saved.


Fast forward almost seven years and Jane is still with her company.  She worked four days a week for one year, and since has worked, on average, one day a week from home.  Not only has this not hurt her career, she's been promoted twice. And whenever I see her, she'll often remark, "What if I hadn't run into you that day?" 

Here are the three things Jane and her boss did to make flexibility real in order to retain her valuable talent:

  1. Learn how to create a win-win plan and make it work once approved.  
  2. Engage in a conversation of mutual needs to finalize solution, and then 
  3. Keep talking and revising as circumstances change.    

For "how to" highlights from Work+Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You,check out the 

Work+Life Fit in 5 Days web series.   
Connect with the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc.


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