Managing flexibility is the new leadership skill

Millennials now make up the largest percentage of the workforce, and we know that the one thing valued most highly amongst this demographic is flexibility.  This is equally the most important thing to a good long-term work/family balance for working parents.  How skilled are the managers in your organisation to proactively lead a flexible team?

Consider these top 5 mistakes managers make around managing flexibility:

  1. Making assumptions

Assumptions are still commonly made around who wants and needs flexibility – it’s not just mums returning from maternity leave anymore – consider the sleep-deprived new dad, someone who needs time to care for an elderly relative, or who needs more time to fulfil personal ambitions – working flexibly for all these people may well keep them in your team for the longer-term.

Assumptions can also be made around what someone working flexibly is perceived to be capable of – or what they want to do – everyone is different so don’t presume that all returning mothers want the easy projects or don’t want to travel anymore – this is a completely outdated presumption!  Most returners from leave thrive on the opportunity to reintegrate and perform, whether they work flexibly or not.

  1. Underestimating the importance of building trust

Flexible working arrangements work best between team managers and members who get to know each other's strengths, passions and areas of development; and develop a mutually beneficial way of communicating.  Building trust takes time and needs an open dialogue and lots of feedback both ways.

  1. Not re-visiting objectives and job description

A very common problem is a team member who is getting paid for 4 days a week but who is in reality working 5 days - many people put in extra hours at night when children are in bed.  This may work periodically or for the short term, but it's not sustainable in the long-run.  Objectives need to be discussed and trialled and re-evaluated frequently.

  1. Not changing how you work together

If this is the first time your team member has worked flexibly, they may need some help adapting their self and time-management skills – this is especially important if they are working from home.  It would be a good idea to agree on how you will communicate during the days your team members are not in the office, as well as sharing your expectations around desired output/contributions to team meetings/availability.

  1. Underestimating emotions

A typical returner from family-related leave will be struggling with a range of complex emotions – from separation anxiety to changes in self-image.  Consider that on top of this, new parents in particular are likely to be sleep-deprived – all of this is bound to have a short-term hit on their productivity, confidence and efficiency in the first months back, even if it is well-hidden.  Showing support and patience during transition-time will pay-off in the longer term

If you would like to read more about managing flexibility and the demand for this leadership skill, see our blog:  Increasing Flexibility – do you and your organisation have the skills to cope?

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