Reasons to say no

Over the years, I’ve heard them all. Right back to 2002 when the legislation was first introduced. Reasons to say no to flexible working.

If I say yes to one, I’ll have to say yes to them all.
It’s not the sort of job where people can work flexibly.
It’s not the sort of company where people can work flexibly.
It’s not fair on the rest of the team.
It’s too difficult operationally.
We can’t offer it to every department so we shouldn’t do it for anyone else.
I won’t be able to manage the person effectively.
It will impact upon the customer.

These objections have common themes. Generality. Vagueness. Fixed positions. More about the manager than the employee. Short term thinking. Taking the easy option.

Because when it comes to the flexible working request, it can be easier to say no than to say yes.

The press help to perpetuate the myths. When the right to request flexible working was opened up to everyone earlier this year, the rarely balanced Daily Mail published an article suggesting that small businesses wouldn’t cope, and that those who simply wanted a regular lie in were now able to demand the working pattern of their choice. The entire economy was at serious risk. Probably.

Scratch the surface of the usual objections to flexible working, and underneath you may well find something else.

A lack of appreciation of the possible benefits, instead, focusing on the risks or the potential problems.
A misunderstanding of what fairness and equality is really all about. That a blanket no to everyone is somehow fairer than saying yes to a few.
Closed minds. Sticking to what has always been done, how things have always worked. A lack of understanding that what people want from work has changed, is changing.
Trust issues. Because they might not be working hard if no one is keeping an eye on them. Because it sounds like an excuse not to do much work.
Misconceptions. Flexible working is something that mums with young kids want. Isn’t it?
They simply can’t be bothered to deal with it.

Here’s the thing.

Flexible working isn’t a mum thing. It isn’t a carers thing. An approaching retirement thing. A working from home means watching the Jeremy Kyle show thing.

Flexible working is a talent thing. Attracting it, engaging it, keeping it.

It’s a valued benefit thing.

Because there is something else that I have noticed over the years about flexible working. How when you try it, the world doesn’t end. The company does not stop functioning. There are no riots. Profitability does not collapse, and neither does customer service. Very rarely do other employees resent it.

One request does however, often lead to another. And still, the world does not end.

So how about this as a challenge? No stereotypes. No knee jerk reactions. No outright rejections.

Instead, open minds. Genuine dialogue about what could work. Giving it a go. Trust.

One request at a time.

3 thoughts on “Reasons to say no

  1. Great stuff Gem. I often think we are approaching flexible working in the same way our ancestors visualised the car with horses pulling it – always reflected in the image of the last. This issue is about control and what the 20th century organisations built their legacies on. I don’t necessarily believe we’ve created bad people, we’ve created systems and people capable of working inside an outdated version of the organisation. Now how do we reimagine that one in the light of new trends and challenges to how we are successful at work ? When we no longer talk about flexible as the ‘other’ then we are on to something.

  2. I remember one manager who before these changes came into effect said when a female member of her team asked for flexible working so that they could manage the childcare more effectively said to me “I wasn’t able to have it when I was bringing my children up, so she’s not having it. Thankfully I was able to persuade the managers manager of the benefits and the request was approved.

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