I read this story today and shook my head.
The headline (More workers choosing fear over flex time, experts say) is designed for clicks. The amount of data supporting this assertion is nonexistent (there is literally not a single statistic cited about the decrease in flex time usage). The issue is presented in the boring way it is always presented: no data, a few interviews, and many experts.
We’ll have some fun though: let’s take the article at face value. Let’s assume this is happening and it is as widespread as the experts say. The problem is two pronged.
False Security Alert: Boss
Most bosses are pretty smart by now. Most of them will play the progressive role (especially for HR) and say that they are all about flexibility. Some will even parrot company lines about being that sort of workplace. Here’s the real test: pick a couple weeks and see when everyone checks out. If it varies with people being in and out or working from home, you’re better off than most organization. What has been typical in situations where balance is in name only, you’ll see everyone toiling until 5:15–5:30pm or later.
Of course the boss has said you can have a flexible schedule. Just as soon as this project is complete, we’ll get something worked out for you. Oh, Jones is going to be out all next week so why don’t we talk about it later. And on, and on, and on.
Here’s the reality: if you can’t implement a flexible work schedule in the middle of a major project, you don’t have the right leadership or the right people (and here’s a hint: that leadership picked those people too). This whole span of control issue was an illusion to begin with. Any control any boss has ever had is based on expectations set, results measured and consequences delivered (good or bad). None of those things have to do with a location or time but on actions taken and results achieved.
Sure, this sounds something like ROWE but most companies aren’t willing to go that far. Still, if your company is going to some sort of flexible scheduling, boss face time is the security blanket you’ll have to give up.
False Security Alert: Employees
From being a former boss, there is one thing I cannot stand: the face time guy. Face time guy (and it seems like it was always guys with me) always wanted to meet and talk about what projects he was working on and how crazy Nancy in accounting is and what the latest specials were at the sandwich shop. He’s the guy that always said goodbye to me when I left at 5:30pm or if I was working late, made sure to check in with me before he left. And it was all done with the guise that he was compensating for something else.
He wasn’t getting his job done.
He was not prepared in meetings. He was behind in his work. And he got passed up for promotions several times. Nice guy. Helluva guy. But he wasn’t going anywhere until he actually got some stuff done.
Now there is nothing wrong with playing the politics game at work (don’t hate the player, hate the game) but relying on that for everything is ridiculous. Just like elementary school, playing the game is for people who get their homework done.
And that’s what this fear over flex time is all about for employees. If you are legitimately afraid about taking flex time and other people are using flex time just fine, you probably have significant doubts about the work you’re doing because you’ve relied on bullshitting with the boss to cover for it. For this person, taking flex time will only serve to demonstrate what very little value you actually add.
If you are a boss, you set expectations and you treat your employees like the adults they are and allow them to meet or exceed those expectations. If they do it, great. If they don’t, you fix it.
If you are an employee, you don’t allow an irrational fear of not being recognized to paralyze you. Whatever your boss asks of you, make it great. Even if that greatness happens at 9:00pm after the kids have gone to bed or at 9:00am when everyone is still trying to wake up.