It is often said that flexibility and adaptability are the hallmarks of a good employee, but what exactly does that mean and why are these skills so important?

Risk and instability have always been present in any growing business, but today’s hyper-competitive and fast-paced environment has turned the workplace into a much more turbulent and volatile place of contribution. Think – globalisation, new technologies, change in corporate structures, downsizing, outsourcing, shifting of business priorities, change in job requirements, to whole careers becoming obsolete – you perceive the impact! With such rapid, unpredictable and disruptive change influencing the way business operates, it would seem that a new approach is necessary to handle up-ended business demands.

Most employees prefer a static and predictable environment and become uneasy and resistant at the very thought of change – this is indeed part of being human. Constantly, staff will push against the unfamiliar and operate with preconceived judgements – ‘doing things the same way, as the new way won’t work well for me’.  Preferring to live in the past, such employees keep harping on why the change will never work – being just too comfortable with being comfortable. Inflexibly holding on to things and refusing to change (not only by employees, but even by managers), however, causes undue emotional upheaval and stress. It would seem that flexibility at work is necessary for employees and employers alike. Advantages for employees could include the following:

  • The expanding of opportunities – today’s business environment is fluid and constantly shifting. Those employees who are able to adapt to changing priorities are considered a valuable asset.
  • The opportunity for a new form of work/life balance – the lines between personal and work time have started to blur. Rather than resisting the technology changes that have induced this new phenomenon (viz. constant connectedness), they can be used to your advantage – while you may need to respond to work e-mails in the evening, personal needs, once relegated to weekends alone, can be addressed more easily in the office.
  • Accelerated responsiveness to change – the nature of business today demands quick responses to change, fast decision-making and swift action. Embracing flexibility as your ‘normal’ behaviour will assist you in adapting to difficult situations more easily.

Advantages for employers could include the following:

  • Retention of customers – a willingness to be flexible in service and adapting products to meet customer preferences exemplifies customer-centricity and demonstrates a readiness to listen.
  • A clear message that diversity is valued – accommodating diverse ways of thinking, working and interacting with each other. Being flexible in this regard provides the environment where staff feel valued and understood.
  • Employee trust and commitment – flexibility is a win for employer and employee. It promotes finding solutions that work for everyone involved, keeps motivation levels high and serves to retain top talent.

Being flexible for the purpose of growing your career is the new approach to work. Your willingness to be adaptable and contribute to ever-changing work demands will position you as an asset and assist in establishing the company footprint in a challenging business arena.

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