6 Reasons Why Flexibility is Frustrating, Not Freeing

Flexibility. We still think of it as innovative, cutting edge, and available only to the lucky ones. “Really, your boss allows you to work from home two days a week, and leave early on Fridays? Wow.”

In December 1930, W.K. Kellogg Company started messing around with schedules to make them more flexible.  Wait – did I say 1930?  And here we are in 2013 still messing around with people’s schedules.Remember when we were setting our own schedules in college, even in high school – choosing what classes we took and when, figuring out what time and where to get our research papers finished and group projects accomplished? Now as an adult I need someone else to monitor if I’m tardy or absent at the office.

Trust me, I could rant all day about it! But instead, I’ll calmly list a few reasons why flexibility is frustrating, not freeing (and what we need to do about it).

 1. Telework is not a new idea.

Take a look at all the fancy flexible work programs that are out there to make people excited about flexibility–like My Work, iWork, My Mobile Workplace. No matter how you market it, it’s the same thing: a program that manages people’s time because we know they can’t be trusted to manage it themselves. We need to go beyond telework. Its time is over.

2. “Flexible Schedule” is an oxymoron.

A schedule is not flexible. Case in point: If your manager allows you to work from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays and you want to switch it up, you have to ask permission to lock yourself into another flexible – er, inflexible – work arrangement.

3. People aren’t nice to the Teleworkers.

Flexibility is supposed to be a great boost for the team, right! What a way to increase employee motivation! But ironically, it backfires. Everyone back at the office is talking about the people who get to work outside the office. “I wish I could work from home!” “Those of us in the office do all the work!” Sound familiar?

Telework implies that you’re not a real worker, just a teleworker. It is the label we put on people who are just not where they should be: the office!

4. Flexibility is only for the chosen few.

That’s right. Only certain people get to have the perk. Haven’t been at the company a year yet? Too bad. Too low on the totem pole? Oh well. Your boss decided your job isn’t right for telework? Huh? Whatever. The answer is NO!

5. Flexibility reinforces the paternalistic structure of work.

If you want to work from a different place or a different time than the socially accepted standard office hours, you have to ask permission. And at that moment, the manager is in the position of managing your work location and time … not the work itself. It makes you feel like you’re back in high school asking your parent’s permission to stay out an extra hour on Friday night.

6. Flexibility does not promote work/life balance.

No matter how you slice it, if anyone other than you has the power to control your work schedule, you’ll always feel like “you can’t have it all.”  Oh, you’ll get a warm fuzzy feeling when your manager allows you to leave early on Friday, but then you realize how small you feel having had to ask for it in the first place.

The more we talk about flexibility, the further we remove ourselves from talking about the one thing that’s important: the work.  Change the conversation. Get crystal clear about the measurable results each person is accountable for, and get out of the managed flexibility game. People can manage their own time.

Let’s face it. The world is changing. Fifty years from now nobody will be talking about flextime, compressed workweek, tele-work, reduced hours, remote working, virtual working or home-officing.

We will not be segmenting people who do work by labeling them. LIFE will happen. Work will happen. Wherever. Whenever.

Does Flexibility work for or against you?

Has a flexible schedule worked for you in the past? How do you coop?

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Jody Thompson

Jody Thompson, along with her partner Cali Ressler, is the Founder of CultureRx and co-creator of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Jody is a nationally recognized keynote speaker and bestselling author. She has been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, HR Executive Magazine, and the New York Times. You can find her on Linkedin.


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