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Flexible working – The answer is no. Now what’s the question?

Over the years I’ve heard plenty of reasons to say no to flexible working, right back to 2002 when the legislation was first introduced.

Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard, more than once:

– 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.

flexible working man


These objections have common themes. Generality, vagueness and fixed positions to name a few. These reasons are more about the manager and the company than the employee. They have to common themes; short term thinking and a little bit of taking the easy option.

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

Issues do arise from time to time. There are some roles that it can’t work for, where a physical presence at prescribed times is required.  Any organisation can only sustain a certain amount of flexibility, and it isn’t always possible to accommodate what people want, or everyone who wants it.

But 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!

And many people will value that benefit more highly than those that traditionally find their way into the overall package.

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. 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 that is no bad thing.  For after all, the Monday-Friday 9-5 is just a habit.  It isn’t the law.

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.

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