Flexible work options

Work-life balance is becoming an essential factor in determining job satisfaction and in assisting the planning of lives and careers of staff. Work-life balance can be addressed through introducing flexible work options.

Flexible work options are work structures that differ from the traditional norms and may include:

  • Re-scheduling of hours (e.g. flexible start and finish times and compressed work weeks), shifts and break schedules
  • The number of hours such as part-time and job sharing
  • An alternative place of work such as working from home or at a different office

Common reasons for requesting flexible work options

Flexible work options may be required at any stage of a person’s life for various reasons, including:

  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • Becoming a grandparent
  • Being diagnosed with a short or long term illness
  • Caring for a family member or friend with a disability, injury, illness or who is frail for a short or long period
  • Returning to study
  • Feeling stressed, tired, overwhelmed or disengaged at work
  • Commuting exceptional distances to and from work each day
  • General difficulty in maintaining a work-life balance
  • Gradual retirement

Offering flexible work options to staff can facilitate loyalty and reduce absenteeism, as well as enhancing the image of your organisation and situating you as an employer of choice.

Provide a good example of communication and dialogue with employees by talking to staff about what flexible work options they need.

In considering requests for flexible work, an exploration into the ways in which jobs and tasks could be performed should be undertaken, as well as consideration of peak periods and combinations of part-time and full-time work.

Organisations may wish to trial the new arrangements, then monitor and evaluate the results. You may also need to communicate to staff how the altered work arrangements may affect superannuation contributions, leave entitlements, and take-home pay.

This information should be discussed during the initial consultation about flexible work options and prior to changes being made formal.

Legislative obligations

In addition to implementing flexible work options for the sake of sound business practice, there also needs to be an awareness of legislative obligations to provide flexible work options.

Employer obligations fall under Industrial relations legislation, the right to request flexible work, and anti-discrimination legislation directing supervisors. Rights to request flexible working arrangements changed in July 2013.

Employees now have a right to request flexible working arrangements if they:

  • have been with their current employer for at least 12 months or are a casual employee who:
    • has been employed regularly and systematically for at least 12 months
    • is likely to continue working regularly
  • are a parent or guardian of a child who is school age or younger
  • are a carer (as defined in the Carer Recognition Act 2010)
  • have a disability
  • are aged 55 years or older
  • are experiencing family or domestic violence
  • are caring for or supporting an immediate family or household member who requires care or support because of family or domestic violence.

For further information, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

Managers and department heads have a responsibility to:

  • Consider each request for flexibility based on its merits
  • Work with the staff member to explore all possibilities to accommodate the needs of the staff member and the work unit
  • Explain and justify a decision to the staff member
  • Ensure fairness to all staff, while avoiding discrimination on grounds covered by Equal Opportunity policy and legislation

A word of caution
: In many organisations flexible work options are formalised in policies and systems. Some organisations prefer to exercise flexibility on an ad hoc basis to address the particular needs of both the employer and employee. Ad hoc arrangements tend to be viewed as issues of discretion rather than policy. However, this may become problematic as some managers have more freedom than others to exercise their discretion and it leaves decisions open to interpretations of personal differences and perceptions of discrimination.

 

For greater detail on abolishing age discrimination and compliance with the law, click here.

Common difficulties or barriers of implementing flexible work options

Some common difficulties experienced during the implementation of flexible work strategies may include:

  • Flexible work options do not appear to be working as well as they should
  • HR managers have difficulty implementing the logistics surrounding coordinating flexible work options amongst multiple requests from staff members, and managing teams with employees on different arrangements
  • The offer of flexibility must be open to all employees and the offer must be genuine. If it comes with strings attached, such as career cessation, marginalised work or degraded working conditions, take-up will be low
  • Be aware that often men still perceive flexible work options as primarily serving the needs of women, which causes a lower take-up by men
  • In workplaces where there is an overtime culture and an emphasis on maximising income, employer's attempts to reduce working hours may be met with resistance
  • Employee take-up of flexible work options can be low for various reasons such as:
    • poor policy dissemination
    • limited or no access to policy details
    • HR and line managers do not encourage or approve of take up
    • there is a corporate culture that does not support take up
    • employees are nervous that they will be seen to be ‘slacking off’ or on their ‘way out’ and thus targeted in restructures

Gradual retirement

Another flexible work option that can be considered includes gradual retirement. Full and complete withdrawal from the workforce can now be commonly replaced with opportunities for phased retirement or bridge employment.

Flexible work options can facilitate gradual retirement through a phased reduction of hours or alternate tenure options.

Gradual retirement provides mutual solutions for both employers and employees, through allowing time to find successors and the transfer of valuable corporate knowledge, and for workers, through the opportunity for gradual adjustment to retirement.

Benefits to the employee include:

  • Preventing shock associated with a too rapid transition from working to not working
  • Addressing possible decline in capabilities that may be associated with age
  • Enabling them to remain longer in the workforce than they may otherwise have
  • Supplementing retirement income
  • Making continued use of their knowledge, skills and experience 
  • Facilitating the establishment of post-retirement activities such as volunteering, sports and hobbies

Additionally, retirees could be included in a company alumni ‘knowledge database’, where they can be called on to utilise their skills and knowledge when needed.

They could be employed in temporary, consultancy, advisory and mentoring capacities, as well as during peak or busy periods or to cover during holidays and vacations. Maintaining contact with retired workers would assist to keep them up to date with company policies and developments.

News and information could be disseminated to retirees through social or alumni networks and newsletters in order to keep them connected.

Resources
For a full list of resources including practical guides for supervisors, managers and department heads on how to successfully implement flexible work arrangements, templates for proposal evaluation, tips in negotiating requests for flexible work options, template on the review of flexible work arrangements and best practice examples, click here.

Download the full toolkit here

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