The tricky balance between flexibility and professionalism
When I was very young, I remember asking my father, who ran his own business, why he wore formals to office. After all, it was his own company and no one was going to be dictating any dress code to him or penalizing him for not adhering to one! I remember him saying that it contributed towards people taking him seriously and towards him feeling that level of professionalism while at work. For him, it was just the right thing to do.
Today flexibility is a buzzword in the work world. Organizations, more often than not, woo potential applicants towards them with an employee proposition that definitely contains some form of flexibility in it. Gen Y tends to determine the ‘cool’ quotient of an organization by the reduced rules and regulations and the increased emphasis of comfort in ergonomics. The young and vibrant workplace is adding colours, casuals and bean bags. Most of them have a clear rationale behind them and employees value them greatly. For example, the freedom to work from home when one would like to as long as one is meeting the necessary goals and deadlines. Given that many families have become dual income ones, this flexibility allows them to run a house as well as manage significantly complex levels of work that one of them would have otherwise had to give up.
In this trend of flexibility, some new organizations may sometimes run the risk of not being professional. For a lot of young people who have not worked in organizations that demand high levels of professionalism, casual is all they have known. The risk of not maintaining this balance is that your workplace or your people might not be taken as seriously by some others, especially those outside it. Your emails to external stakeholders might be punctuated with emojis that offend them and serious meetings are attended in shorts.
Before this lightheartedness spreads to even goals, and deadlines being considered casually, here are a few things that you could do to ensure that there is a balance, and your people demonstrate the best of both worlds.
- Leadership leads by example: Make sure that your young workforce sees how your leadership addresses different people and situations appropriately. Increase visibility to meetings with external stakeholders and internal teams so as to show the difference in the way your leadership would act and dress – even perhaps how their body language would differ. Communicate not just the differences but also the similarities in the way they behave, for example, always taking notes, always looping back on deliverables and next steps and always adhering to time.
- Set limits: Set certain limits if your workplace demands it. If you share an office space with another organization whose rules, though different, also need to be respected (this would also come under the purview of professionalism), communicate guidelines that would make it easier to do so. For example, while you would consider casual attire appropriate, let your people know that as casual as ripped jeans is a big no-no. Let them know that while music in the office spaces is allowed, there should be certain decibels above which you would be disturbing your neighbours.
- Drive the balance in your culture: What would perhaps be crucial here is to drive it in the culture. Maintain uniform messaging throughout and across all areas of work. Your people are likely to get confused or go to an extreme if you confuse them. Constantly message professionalism in flexibility and about why it needs to be maintained. Highlight best practices from among your people so that your teams know exactly what you are talking about.
- Keep a check for loopholes: If flexible work time is a highlight of your employee value proposition, make sure that you have a check in place to know that people are not misusing it. This is not a breach of trust in your people.It is simply a check that allows you to be certain that the culture in the organization leads to valuing of this flexibility rather than misusing it. People will first compare themselves with those within the organization and if they believe that some others are getting a better deal of this flexibility, this will lead to some form of dissatisfaction.
Embracing flexibility at work has led to increased productivity and happiness for a significant amount of people across the world. The trick is to ensure that you have just enough of it and that your culture respects and values the balance.