With ever-changing deadlines and new projects emerging, it is important for leaders to encourage flexibility in their work staff. While the majority of workers are fairly easy-going when it comes to sudden changes in work flow or deadlines, some employees actively resist any change to their routine. These inflexible employees often experience extreme stress when presented with a sudden change, and frequent changes can quickly lead to burnout and job turnover.
The methods used to lead inflexible employees in a chaotic work environment must actively incorporate strategies to help these employees improve their response to sudden changes and to accept new ideas. These strategies will need to differ based on the root cause of the employees’ inflexibility, and determining the cause is often as easy as inviting the employee to a private meeting, and merely asking what can be done to help them cope with a work environment that requires flexibility.
One of the most common causes of resistance to sudden changes in work assignment or shifting deadlines is anxiety. This may be due to an inherent tendency to worry, regardless of whether they are truly concerned about their ability to complete their job. For these employees, offering as much warning as possible for shifting work priorities can help immensely. Sending out a quick e-mail stating that tasks, deadlines, or priorities may be changing as soon as it becomes a possibility may provide all the warning they need to prepare for change.
Some employees may report that they become easily overwhelmed if they are asked to juggle multiple assignments. For these employees, providing a list of priorities may help them to manage their work load and understand which tasks to complete first. However, it is important that managers work to resist the natural tendency to micromanage these employees. Priority lists should be as simple as possible, unless the employee specifically requests a detailed to-do list.
For other employees, the root cause of inflexibility is founded in a fear of making a mistake and looking incompetent. To put it simply, they may have learned how to do a task using one specific method, and asking them to branch out to new methods or softwares may be outside of their realm of knowledge. In these cases, providing employees with appropriate training will allow them to embrace new strategies while maintaining their dignity.
Finally, the inflexible employee may just be the type that prefers to keep a set routine. If watched closely, this type of employee tends to arrive at the office within a very narrow window each morning, and follow a step by step process of beginning their work day. If the requested change would interfere with this routine, such as interfering with scheduled lunch breaks or leaving time in the case of tight deadlines, the employee may feel better if they are reassured that they will be able to return to their original routine or find a new routine encompassing the changes.
Regardless of the root cause of an employees’ inflexibility, successful leaders will be able to encourage more flexibility if their managerial method encompasses the emotional experiences of the employee. Addressing sources of anxiety, including fear of failure to perform tasks correctly or on time, or fear of work taking over their life, can help employees to understand that flexibility is a critical skill to possess in the workplace, and is nothing to fear.
Head of Training and Development
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Mark Williams is a learning and development professional, using business psychology and multiple intelligences to create fascinating and quickly-identifiable learning initiatives in the real-world business setting. Mark’s role at MTD is to ensure that our training is leading edge, and works closely with our trainers to develop the best learning experiences for all people on learning programmes. Mark designs and delivers training programmes for businesses both small and large and strives to ensure that MTD’s clients are receiving the very best training, support and services that will really make a difference to their business.