How flexible are you?

Once upon a time flexibility in the workplace was the sole domain of working parents, however our changing world has seen an increased expectation across all areas of your business.  As with all change, this presents the organisation with a number of opportunities, as well as challenges.

What does flexibility look like?

Flexibility in the workforce is by definition flexible… i.e. there is no single model that will suit every employer and every employee.

“Flexibility is about an employee and an employer making changes to when, where and how a person will work to better meet individual and business needs… Flexibility should be mutually beneficial to both the employer and employee and result in superior outcomes.” – The Sloan Centre for Ageing and Work (Boston, 2014)

Common flexible working arrangements in Australia include, but are not limited to:

  • Variable working hours/ days/ time of the year;
  • Part time/ casual work;
  • Working from home; and
  • Job sharing.

Who is entitled to flexible working arrangements?

While anyone can enter into a flexible working arrangement by mutual agreement, some employees have the right to ask for flexible work arrangements, under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), including:

  • parents or those with the responsibility for the care of a child who is school aged or younger;
  • carers’ of people with disabilities;
  • people aged 55 or older; and
  • people experiencing family or domestic violence.

For these situations, requests for flexible work arrangements must be considered by the employer and can only be refused on reasonable business grounds. 

Why should our business accommodate flexible work?

A flexible workforce can have benefits for both you and your employees.  Employees may find they are better able to balance work with life commitments and this flexibility often has a direct and positive impact on engagement, turnover, retention and absenteeism.

Additional benefits for employers may also include lower fixed employment costs, in the case of employees working from home, and an increased ability to manage workflow to coincide with peak/ slow times or dealing with differing time zones.

How do we make flexibility work for the business?

To ensure flexibility works for you and your business, consider the following:

  1. Can your business accommodate flexibility? Some businesses and/ or specific jobs are simply not able to accommodate variations to hours and/ or places of work.
  2. Can all of your employees access flexible working arrangements? If not, you may have to define who does have access and provide objective justification as to why others do not, keeping in mind Fair Work and Equal Employment Opportunity legislation.  It will pay to bear in mind that your flexible workforce also needs to be self-motivated and those that need constant direction may not be suited to a less structured working environment.
  3. Do your flexible workers have the resources they need? Not having access to necessary resources such as a mobile phone, printer or computer network can impact on the flexible worker’s ability to meet the requirements of their role.
  4. Are there any HSE implications that need to be considered? Does your employee have an appropriate home office set up? Who is responsible in the event of an accident while the employee is working remotely? Do you have a plan for managing fatigue if the employee is on call or working outside usual office hours?
  5. Is isolation as issue? You may need to consider strategies to manage any feelings of isolation and/ or disengagement that your employee may experience as a result of working from home, or working outside usual office hours.
  6. Is your business (and you, as a Manager) able and willing to focus on outcomes and achievements rather than time spent? This is not always possible for all businesses and often comes down to whether or not there is trust that the arrangement is mutually beneficial and is not being abused by either party.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to working flexibly and the nature of your business will determine what works for you and what doesn’t.  It is clear however, that a planned approach to flexibility is required to ensure that both you and your employee get the best results.

Contact WCA- People & Culture Solutions if you require any assistance with managing your Industrial Relations and/ or general Human Resources on (08) 9383 3293 or