Why flexible work?
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has gathered research into the benefits for individuals, teams and organisations when employees are enabled to work flexibly (summarised below).1
Each of these benefits can be linked to elements of the Thrive at Work Framework. Flexible work can impact multiple building blocks of the Thrive at Work Framework – including forming a component of Return To Work programs and injury management (Mitigate Illness), helping to manage time and cognitive job demands for employees (Prevent Harm) and promotes high performance, foster diversity and inclusion and can even foster high quality work connections (Promote Thriving).
- Improved output. For jobs that require concentration, working at home, working at hours when the office is quiet, or working from another location can help with the quality and speed of the work.
- Flexible workers can be more effective. Successful flexible workers are excellent self-managers who are both well organised and effective communicators.
- Improved ability to meet the needs of clients and stakeholders. An organisation that works flexibly can expand service delivery hours, meeting customer needs for out-of-hours contact with the organisation. Flexible work locations may extend the organisation’s ability to react more quickly to client needs, or to extend their reach to more or different clients. Extra levels of service can increase loyalty.
- Retaining knowledge, skills and experience / avoiding the cost of recruitment and retraining. In the current job market, flexibility has become an attractive feature of organisations and has been marked as a key influence in candidates’ job choices. Retaining existing knowledge and skills is also important to ensure maximum value is gained from the organisation’s investment in recruitment and training. Offering flexibility reduces the likelihood that employees will leave and increases loyalty to the organisation.
- Employers of Choice do flexibility well. If your organisation aims to become a WGEA Employer of Choice for Gender Equality, providing employees with flexibility may align nicely with that aim.
- Increased job satisfaction. Employees who have opportunities to work flexibly have been shown to have greater job satisfaction and this increases both their productivity and their sense of loyalty to the organisation.
- Improved teamwork. Teamwork often improves as knowledge and enthusiasm are shared among a more motivated flexible working team.
The University of New South Wales and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency have developed two free toolkits on workplace flexibility for managers and employees. The Manager Flexibility Toolkit includes guidance for developing, communicating and fostering flexible work practices within teams.
Flexible working arrangements
The Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act) provides different groups of employees with the right to request a change in their working arrangements, specifically the hours, patterns and locations of work.
While the Fair Work Act specifies the groups that can statutorily request flexible working arrangements, any employee can approach their employer with such a request, but their request may be dealt with differently as it would not be governed by the current Act.
An employer who receives a request covered under the Act must provide a written response within 21 days. Employers covered by an award must first discuss the request with their employee to try to reach an agreement about changes to the employee’s working conditions. A request can only be refused on ‘reasonable business grounds’.
A flexible working arrangement may involve a change in working arrangements for a fixed period of time, or on an ongoing basis, to accommodate a range of personal commitments.
The University of New South Wales and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency have developed two free toolkits on workplace flexibility for managers and employees. The Manager Flexibility Toolkit includes guidance on creating, communicating and fostering flexible work practices within teams.