Managers sometimes voice concern that, if a flexible working pattern is granted to one team member, the floodgates will open and everyone will pile in, making competing and irreconcilable demands. I’m not sure that actually happens (please comment with your experience if I’m wrong on that). Perhaps there may be one or two requests - but rarely a flood.
And should you fear the flood if it came? It might be the making of your team. What do they really want and need in terms of working arrangements? What frustrations and unfulfilled ambitions do they harbour?
- The son looking after an elderly parent who struggles in the mornings.
- The semi-pro rugby player who desperately wants to tour for a month.
- The director struggling to keep going because of undiagnosed anxiety disorder.
- The assistant wanting a little more free time to complete a masters.
- The maternity returner fearing what will happen to her career when she tells her employer she wants to work part time.
- The closet author who wants to write a murder mystery
What if they opened up and asked their boss for the work arrangement they want or need - temporary or permanent?
Wow that Monday morning would be a tough one! What response would they get in your organisation? What would it depend on? And what would happen if their wish was your command?
- The son works from home in the mornings and can cope much better.
- The rugby player tours and comes back with an amazing life experience and contagious with enthusiasm.
- The director takes two months off - gets help and recovers - averting a mental breakdown.
- The assistant completes the degree and becomes the next CEO!
- The new mum returns to work without resentment and with her skills, perspective and commitment to driving your business forward.
And the flood? A flood of positivity, loyalty, motivation and engagement. (If there was a backing track to this post - it’d be reaching a soaring crescendo right now…)
Okay. It isn’t that easy. There’s law you need to consider for a start. Law and process. And you’ve got a business to run. Quite simply, practical business demands may get in the way. Sometimes you just won’t be able to agree.
And maybe you’ll lose one or two (maybe that author when she becomes the next JK Rowling). But they weren’t going to ever really deliver for you anyway if their heart lay elsewhere.
It’s surely better if they can speak up and be truly heard. Even if their wishes can’t be granted. Is there a compromise? What’s for certain is that if people bottle up their difficulties or their ambitions or if, when they do ask, they don’t feel respected and valued in how their requests are handled - then you lose engagement and risk far greater problems. Everyone might be present all day every day, but how much 'less well' are they doing than they otherwise would?
How can you build a team culture where people will ask? We’re looking at these and other management challenges in our Manager Excellence Workshop on 28 February 2018. Do get in touch if you’d like to join us.