Raise your hand if you’ve muttered or thought “Yeah, but…” or “What if…” as you considered putting together a plan to manage your work and life more flexibly. If you did (and chances are that you did), then you’ve officially hit a fear roadblock.
Fear roadblocks litter the work+life fit process from beginning to end. Whether big or small, they will sneak up and derail you unless directly challenged.
If you’re stuck behind a “Yeah, but…” or a “What if…,” I can’t simply tell you not to be afraid, especially in this economic environment. It won’t work. And I can’t say that all of your fears are completely groundless, but I can help you challenge them as they come up, by:
- Showing you “how:” I will give you a process for challenging the validity of a particular fear as being real or imagined so you can keep moving forward.
- Sharing and challenging the most common fears: There are three common work+life fit fears that have come up consistently during my 17 years of helping companies and individuals partner to develop and implement work+life flexibility strategies. You will probably recognize them.
Let’s get started…
“How to” Challenge Fear Roadblocks
Excerpt from my book, Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You:
“I was once part of a corporate work/life consulting project in which more than 100 employees who successfully found a better way to fit work into their lives were interviewed. We asked them what advice they would give to others. Much of their advice reinforces the strategies put forth in this book, such as redefining success, making the business case, and taking the lead on your own behalf to find the fit you need. But many also added, ‘Tell them to just go for it.’ Go for it. Sounds like something you’d say to someone who’s about to jump off the high dive or climb a mountain for the first time. What exactly were these people trying to say?
Well, they’ve been in your position—wanting a better work+life fit, but feeling very afraid. And they know that it feels like a leap into the unknown. But they also know that once you have a well thought-out proposal, then you have to ‘get past the fear and just do it.’”
Step 1: Create a solid, well-thought out plan that considers your needs as well as the realities of your job. And, once implemented, review and adapt regularly. My experience is that most people don’t do this, for a few reasons:
They don’t know how. This is why when I develop a flexibility strategy for companies, one of the keys to successful implementation is giving employees a process that helps them take the lead and create a work+life fit plan that makes sense not only for them personally, but for their job.
Knowing how to partner with your employer to flexibly and strategically manage your work+life fit as personal and work realities change is a skill set that we all need, but that most of us still don’t have. A step-by-step process for creating and negotiating a win-win plan can be found in my book, Work+Life.
We expect our manager/employer to come up with a solution. And they can’t. To start, if you need to change your work+life it, chances are your manager/employer has no idea. He or she can’t read your mind. And in this environment, they’re probably focused on other issues, so it’s not on their radar screen. Even if it was, your manager can’t tailor a workable plan for you because he or she doesn’t know your work and personal realities well enough. Your manager can support the conversation, but you need to start the discussion and present solution.
We think corporate flexible work arrangement policies are the solution. Even with more policies, we’d still need to present a plan and have a discussion. For years, experts–including me–thought top-down policies outlining the different types of flexibility were the answer. The truth is even if there is a policy officially sanctioning a certain type of flexibility (e.g. flextime, telecommuting, reduced schedules, compressed workweeks) you can’t simply check a box and expect the arrangement to survive day-to-day reality.
I’ve seen plenty of employers with great flexibility policies and no usage because it’s not supported by process that tailors solutions to the person and the business. And I’ve seen companies with no policies, but with an inherently flexible way of operating where unique work+life fit solutions are organically created. The power of a policy is to show what’s possible. But it’s the work+life fit process that creates a workable plan that’s a sustainable win-win for all parties.
Step 2: Challenge each fear to determine if it’s based on facts or on assumptions that need to be clarified. The three strategies for Challenging the Fear Roadblock are found in this excerpt from my book (Click here for PDF).
In my experience, approximately 80% of the fears that keep us stuck are based on misunderstandings, misperceptions and a lack of information. The remaining 20% of concerns, are valid on some level, but in many cases can be addressed. For those that can’t, you still have choices.
Examples: Challenging the Most Common Work+Life Fit Fears
Fear #1 – They will say “no.” This is the top fear that keeps most people from presenting a plan that adjusts their work+life fit. The specific ways to challenge this fear are covered in the chapter excerpt above; however, here are a couple of things to consider:
- Are you a good performer? If you are, by all means put together a plan, especially if you are getting ready to quit to find a better fit. I wish I had a dollar for every manager who said to me over the years, “They should have said something before they left. I would have considered it.”
- The worst thing that can happen is your manager says “no.” Then you are back where you started and no worse off. But my experience is that nine times out of ten, you at least get a fair hearing as long as you have a well-thought out plan. And if you are really concerned, start out by proposing a relatively small adjustment in your fit, and work your way toward more.
Fear #2 – It will hurt my career. You have to ask yourself, what happens if you don’t find a better fit? Are you going to leave? Will you become so unproductive and unhappy that it begins to hurt your health and/or your performance? Would finding a better fit actually help your career in the long-run? How would it benefit your employer?
Fear #3 – I will lose my job. In today’s economic reality, I understand the instinct to keep your head down and just work harder, faster and longer. You don’t want to make any wrong moves that put your job in jeopardy. That being said, your employer benefits from helping you flexibly manage your work+life fit. You’re more productive. You’re less distracted. You’re more creative. You can provide more coverage. You’re less stressed. You stick around. If you work fewer hours, they save money. All good stuff that should be front and center in any plan.
While there are always exceptions, my experience has been that if someone with flexibility loses his or her job, it’s not about the flexibility specifically. It’s either:
- The individual wasn’t performing overall (I would argue that person shouldn’t have had flexibility in the first place).
- He or she wasn’t willing or able to adapt the type of flexibility they had to the changing realities of the business. That’s why it’s so important that any work+life fit plan is a flexible, ongoing dialogue with your manager and not just a box checked on a benefits form. You want to be in the loop when circumstances change, or
- There were broader layoffs impacting many people in many different circumstances, including those with flexibility. But not only those with flexibility.
Step 3: Finally, dig down deep into yourself and find the courage to go for it. You do have the power, as long as you know how.
What are the “Yeah, but…” and “What ifs…” keeping you from flexibly managing your work+life fit in a way that meets your needs and the needs of your job? Have you challenged your fears? If yes, what did you do? If not, why?