Balancing act: Training people to handle flexibility can help workers, companies

Published: Tuesday, June 3 2014 7:30 a.m. MDT

I've learned over the years that building balance and managing flexibility don't come naturally to everyone. However, almost everyone benefits from company efforts to promote more balanced lives. Perhaps some training is in order.

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When I started my current job about three years ago, my first two days at work consisted of employee orientation. I was given all kinds of information about the company's history and philosophy, as well as specifics about policies, benefits and the like.

During the weeks after that orientation, I learned about my team and duties. I received training to help me complete tasks and meet the expectations of my employers.

However, something I've never received training for — in this job or any other — was how to manage a flexible schedule and build better work-life balance.

This probably seems like something everyone should figure out on their own. Why should an employer train workers how to deal with such things?

Well, I've learned over the years that building balance and managing flexibility don't come naturally to everyone, but I've seen almost everyone benefit from company efforts to promote more balanced lives.

And that brings us back to the survey I started talking about last week, from the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc.

The survey showed that 97 percent of workers said they had some form of work-life flexibility in 2013. (The national telephone survey of 556 full-time employed adults has a margin of error of 4 percent, and it is part of a biennial study first conducted in 2006.)

Flex+Strategy Group CEO Cali Williams Yost, a flexible workplace strategist and author, said in an email interview that of that 97 percent, only 40 percent received any training or guidance on how to use their flexibility.

"That means 57 percent of employees with flexibility are flying by the seat of their pants, so it's not surprising that 62 percent said they weren't able to use or improve the flexibility they had," Yost wrote in response to one of my questions. "And training made a significant difference. When you compare employees who received training and guidance with those who did not, those who received support to manage their work-life flexibility were significantly more likely to feel a greater sense of control and perceive a higher level of commitment to flexibility from their employer."

The latter point is significant. As I mentioned last week, the survey showed that only 46 percent of respondents described their employer's commitment to work-life flexibility as strong. Meanwhile, 20 percent said it was clear their company had reduced flexibility during the past year; 5 percent had "heard rumors or noticed signs" of a decreased commitment; and 20 percent said their employers are committed for now, but that could change.

Yost wrote that work-life flexibility training helps employees learn how to partner with a company to capture any available flexibility "and then use it to manage the way your work and the other parts of your life fit together. ...

"This includes day-to-day flexibility and formal flexible work plans. Because, as we found in the research, people have and use both types — 55 percent informal, occasional flexibility and 42 percent formal agreement upon arrangements. I believe work-life flexibility training should be part of the core competency curriculum in every organization for employees, managers and HR."

Such training is Yost's business, so it's natural that she would feel this way. But I believe she's on the right track here.

In her email, she wrote that one of her client companies decided to use a weekly practice she developed that gives employees a framework for using day-to-day, informal flexibility to manage their work-life balance "more intentionally." After six weeks, she wrote, all of the 40 participants said their productivity at work had either increased or stayed the same, while 92 percent said they were better able to prioritize their responsibilities and goals.

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