Adaptability Vs. Flexibility: Definition And Differences

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many candidates list key skills, such as adaptability and flexibility, on their resumes to improve their employability. These soft skills are similar, yet they differ based on the attitude and behaviour of an individual at work. Understanding the differences between the two skills can help you highlight them on your resume and in your cover letter. In this article, we look at adaptability vs. flexibility, examine their definitions, review some examples and provide some tips for developing them.

Adaptability Vs. Flexibility

Understanding adaptability vs. flexibility can help you gain a competitive advantage during interviews and excel in your career. Employers typically want candidates who can demonstrate a willingness to be adaptable and flexible with new situations, environments, challenges and ideas. Adaptability is the ability to make modifications or adjustments to suit a new environment and flexibility is the ability to adjust to short-term changes and accommodate others' needs. For instance, a candidate can be adaptable if they move to a new city to start their careers and flexible if they change the day on which they start working.

The meanings of flexibility and adaptability are slightly different, so it is beneficial to adjust your language while listing them on your resume. You can describe yourself as flexible if you wish to show your willingness to change or shift schedules. Alternatively, if you want to demonstrate the ability to change strategy and behaviour according to the situation, you can use adaptability.

Related: Soft Skills: Definitions And Examples

What Is Adaptability?

Adaptability is a skill that shows a person's willingness to adapt. It refers to being open to new ideas, innovations or modifications in a work environment. With this skill, an individual can work independently and in groups and often handle difficult tasks by themselves. Adaptable skills at the workplace can help develop targeted skill sets, processes and frameworks that allow you to respond appropriately and quickly to changing circumstances. There are three types of adaptability skills:

  • Cognitive adaptability: Cognitive adaptability is the ability to prepare for various scenarios and plan accordingly. You can structure your thinking during decision-making by developing cognitive adaptability.

  • Personality adaptability: Personality adaptability is the ability to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses and use them to your advantage. This can help you develop coping strategies during stressful or challenging situations at work.

  • Emotional adaptability: Emotional adaptability skills help you acknowledge and accept different emotions during varying situations.

Related: Adaptability: An Essential Skill For Changing Workplaces

Examples Of Adaptability

Here are some examples of adaptability:

Example 1

Below is an example of a software engineer working in a company which had an acquisition:

A software engineer joins a company in an entry-level position. After two months, the company goes through a merger and acquisition, leading to a change in management across all departments. Following the post-merger integration, the employee becomes a part of a new team. The employee shows acceptance of the new internal structural changes and environment. By implementing the latest technologies, the team upgrades software applications, which reduces the operational cost by 25%. The engineer is able to adapt to the challenging work environment in the company.

Related: Key Employability Skills To Be Successful In The Workplace

Example 2

Below is an example of an entry-level sales development representative (SDR) being informed of newly installed office automated systems and technology tools for all the employees:

After starting a new job, a sales development representative receives an email regarding the installation of new office automation systems. This includes business process automation software to encourage collaborative work. The SDR shows an eagerness to learn about various tools regarding task management, reporting and analytics. With training and preparation, the SDR is able to adapt to the upcoming changes.

Related: Why Personal Development Is Crucial (With Examples And Tips)

What Is Flexibility?

Being flexible means being able to adapt quickly and with composure to sudden changes so you can handle unexpected problems or tasks with ease. Flexibility is one of the common traits employers look for in their employees. This is particularly important in industries with a high level of change and volatility, where the ability to adapt to sudden events and changing expectations is an important attribute for employers and employees alike.

Related: How To Be Flexible At Work: A Complete Guide

Examples Of Flexibility

Here are some examples of flexibility:

Example 1

Below is an example of an HR who assists a graphic designer with telecommuting during a family emergency:

A graphic designer at a marketing agency receives a call from home regarding a family emergency. The designer informs the human resources (HR) manager about the situation and asks for the option of telecommuting for a period of three weeks. The HR agrees to it and contacts the information system department. They make arrangements for the appropriate equipment needs, which include a desktop, modem and data lines. The designer signs the inventory of the company property and leaves for hometown. When an HR assists an employee with telecommuting, they are being flexible.

Related: What Is Remote Work?

Example 2

Here is an example where a cashier works overtime during a demanding situation:

A cashier works at a department store, which requires employees to take additional work for a week prior to a popular festival. After assessing the situation with the store manager, the cashier works for four 11-hour days as part of a compressed work schedule. The staff perform all the checkout procedures efficiently, process store card and gift card transactions for over 400 customers and maintain a clutter-free checkout area during peak hours. The cashier shows flexibility on the job.

Related: What Does A People Manager Do? (With Skills And Salary)

Flexibility And Adaptability In The Workplace

Here are some ways to become flexible and adaptable in your workplace:

  • Seek positive ways to make changes after identifying the reasons.

  • Propose ways to make changes more effective.

  • Demonstrate a willingness to learn new strategies, methods or techniques.

  • Respond to the demands of a situation by shifting your priorities.

  • Maintain a positive attitude despite setbacks.

  • Offer help to colleagues when they are sick or on emergency leave.

Related: Importance Of Soft Skills In The Workplace

Tips To Improve Adaptability And Flexibility Skills

Here are some tips to improve adaptability and flexibility skills:

Be open-minded

Analysing a situation from a different perspective helps you to comprehend and manage it better. For example, you can express receptivity to an altering work task by being open-minded and offering assistance. Prioritise listening to and understanding the views of other people involved.

Develop your skill set

Learning new skills can help you understand unfamiliar situations and become more flexible and adaptable. You can maintain curiosity by staying alert and reading about the latest innovations, research and industry trends. You can also find it helpful to interact with new people and engage in challenging tasks.

Improve problem-solving skills

Identifying and resolving problems as they arise is the key to solving specific concerns. This includes identifying problems, brainstorming multiple solutions, picking and defining a solution and implementing it. Over time, you can become adaptable to new situations and solve problems that arise in the workplace.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions And Examples

Build broad networks

Networking is an important part of being flexible and adaptable in the workplace. Employees who are productive also leverage their professional networks by searching for opportunities and best practices and offering and receiving support. Having a vast network can help you become acquainted with a broader group of people across different departments, corporations and industries. Using this method, you can experience the practices and cultures of each domain virtually and get exposure to different fields.

Related: What Is Business Networking? (With Benefits And Types)

Benefits Of Being Adaptable And Flexible

Being adaptable and flexible can bring a lot of benefits for employees and the organisations for which they work. Here are some benefits:

  • Increased ability to manage challenges: Having both skills allows you to tackle challenges, setbacks and changes effectively, contributing to continued productivity.

  • Enhanced organisational relevance: As an adaptable and flexible employee, you are likely to bring a lot more value to the organisation by embracing change.

  • Improved leadership skills: Adaptability and flexibility can help you develop leadership skills.

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