- Every manager would know how to talk with his or her employees about work+life flexibility. The discussion would focus on how to get the job done while acknowledging that employees have lives outside of work that they need to deal with. The manager doesn’t come up with solutions, but everyone feels comfortable enough to talk about options, without getting into the details of or judging “why” they need to work differently.
- Every employee would have the skills to take the initiative and present a work+life fit plan that adjusts how, when or where they work in a way that’s a win for them and the business. They would do this in response to any change in their personal or professional circumstances that would cause them to rethink the way work fit into their life. They don’t suffer in silence because they have the skills to present options that make sense for everyone.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in work+life fit nirvana:
- Most employees have no idea that they, not their manager, need to come up with solutions when work and personal circumstances change. And, even if they did, most wouldn’t know how. Further complicating matters is the fear that saying anything in today’s economic environment that would put their job at risk.
- Most managers are afraid to say anything that would get them sued, and quite frankly, they “just don’t want to get into it.” They don’t know enough about each person’s life and tasks of their job to come up with a workable solution, and they aren’t comfortable getting into the details of “why” behind the desire for a different work+life fit.
As a result, the ongoing conversation doesn’t happen which leads to a productivity-draining, engagement-sucking, stress-inducing stalemate that hurts everyone.
How to break the stalemate and start the conversation without getting into “it”
Thankfully, more employers recognize that they need to break the deadlock. Increasingly I’m being asked, “How do we get employees to tell us what would work for them and for us? And how do we get managers to feel comfortable having the conversation?” Here’s my advice:
- Keep it simple by asking the question, “Do you have the flexibility to manage your work+life fit in a way that gets your job done and meets your personal needs?” The question opens the door to the discussion, keeps the focus on the job and doesn’t get into the details of the individual’s personal life. I recommend that managers pose the question to everyone at least once a year (proactive), and then use it to address any issues that come up unexpectedly before the stress and strain becomes noticeable (reactive).
- Give employees the tools to be an effective partner and come up with a plan once the door is opened. For an example of this skill set looks like, check out the three-step work+life fit process outlined in my book. Highlights can be found in the Work+Life Fit in 5 Days series.
With a simple question and the skills to create a win-win plan, it’s possible to encourage a conversation about work+life flexibility that benefits everyone … and gets us one step closer to nirvana.
What do you think makes managers and employees more comfortable talking about how to manage life and the complex realities of work in a difficult economic reality?
Since 1995, Cali Williams Yost, the CEO and founder of the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc., has helped companies profit and grow and individuals optimize their work+life “fit” by working smarter, better and more flexibly. She is the author of Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You (Riverhead/Penguin Group), and can be found on Twitter @caliyost.