Why knocking back flexible work is a sign of weak leadership

Yes – that’s right. If you’ve ever knocked back a request for flexible work from one of your employees, I’m suggesting that you take a long hard look at your own leadership skills.

I’ve been sitting on this for a while now. Slightly fearful that there’ll be an exception I hadn’t thought of; a role that requires exactly the same person to be physically present for exactly the same hours every week; a job so important that how it’s performed can not be altered in any way.

I have not found a single example and yet, every week, I hear another story about talented, smart and hard working employees being knocked back for flexible work. It makes my head explode. There is absolutely nothing wrong with those seeking flexible work but a whole lot wrong with the leaders who can’t accommodate those requests.

A quick study of most effective leaders will show that they are strong in the following areas:

  • Problem solving
  • Establishing deliverables
  • Holding employees accountable

Leadership of flexible workers requires exactly those strengths.

Problem solving

Good leaders work with their teams and follow decision making processes before determining an outcome. If an employee has a small child at kindy 3 days per week or is studying nights, they work together to plan a roster that suits both. Great leaders understand the best outcomes can be win-win and problem solve to get there.

Establishing deliverables

Good leaders are clear on what is required of their team. They plan, budget and deliver whatever good or service is expected from them. They know how to express their deliverables to their team. They know what their team is working towards and they don’t need to be physically present for every step in the process. They understand employee strengths and allocate work based on these strengths and availability.

Hold employees accountable

Good leaders will recruit, develop and train their teams to deliver. When employees are not delivering, they will be appropriately managed. A good leader measures performance based on behaviours and delivery, not where the person was working from or what days they worked.

Requesting flexible work arrangements put a huge onus on the employee to state: where and when they will be working; what time they will turn up and depart; how they will hand over work; how they will manage collaboration and team work; and how they can be contacted for surprise jobs.

Yet I have never heard the same requests made of a full-time worker. It seems that many leaders will let recalcitrant employees turn up day after day, keeping their chair warm, watching the clock and barely delivering. The only edge is that they’re physically present.

Skill-up leaders!

Next time a smart and hard working person comes to you requesting flexible work arrangements, consider your own leadership capacity before saying no. Personally I’d be asking what’s wrong with you and your role such that you can’t manage an employee with flexible conditions.

This article first appeared on Women’s Agenda.


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