Source: Frank Gaertner / shutterstock.com

Pay & Conditions

How this business' practical approach to workplace flexibility pays off

By Vanessa Power on 6th July 2018

Flexibility in the workplace is being increasingly embraced by Australian businesses to attract and retain talented and valuable workers. Fuelled by a desire to maintain the illusive “work-life balance”, employees are actively seeking out workplaces that have the systems in place to support flexibility. The demand for flexible work practices is fast becoming the norm and is not limited to working families. Older workers transitioning to retirement and younger “Gen Y” workers balancing their working life with volunteering or investing in professional development are also able to take advantage of the benefits.

This article looks at a number of practical steps you can take to implement flexible work in your business and illustrates these with a case study.

Step 1 – Know the law


Understanding your employer obligations in response to a flexible work request is the first step in adopting a more collaborative workplace system. 

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) gives certain employees in the national workplace relations system the legal right to request flexible working arrangements. Parents of school age or younger children, carers, disabled employees, those aged 55 or older, or employees experiencing family violence are all eligible to apply and employers must seriously consider the request.

An employer can refuse a request on reasonable business grounds. However, with more and more workplaces realising the benefits of a flexible workforce, it is worth investigating implementing flexible work not only for situations where you are legally obligated, but for the wider team. Increased productivity, staff retention, reduced absenteeism and employee job satisfaction are just a few of the advantages of accommodating flexibility. 

Step 2 – What exactly does workplace flexibility mean? 


Flexibility can take many forms including when, where and how people work. It can range from a simple change to start and finishing times to working longer hours over fewer days or working from home, job sharing, flexitime or trading extra annual leave for a lower salary. A successful system involves both employee and employer comprehensively exploring available options, being open-minded and willing to compromise.

Benefits to business


The ability to keep up with family and personal responsibilities such as attending their child’s parent-teach interviews, picking them up from school or coaching the kids’ soccer team can make the world of difference in a working family’s life. The ability to have personal control of work and life choices is an important factor in maintaining good mental health. Allowing employees more choice in their work schedule shows trust and respect and in return, leads to an increase in engagement and productivity with workers adopting a more efficient use of time across the working week. Higher morale and loyalty results in lower absenteeism and turnover. 

An Australian study released by Ernst & Young in 2013 identified that women with flexible working arrangements waste less time at work than other workers. With women making up the bulk of the part time and casual workforce along with the current skills shortage, it makes good business sense to adopt initiatives that attract, retain and promote women to help boost productivity. The return on investment on education and training is another reason that flexibility should be considered as a means of holding on to highly skilled workers that would otherwise be lost. 

Step 3 – Implementing workplace flexibility  


It takes careful planning of systems and processes to identify and address any risks associated with adopting flexible work practices. Gaining support from leadership will require building a strong business case, not only highlighting the benefits of improved productivity, retention, attraction and engagement, but outlining the financial investment required and any potential impact on service delivery. 

Similarly, employees have an important role in the successful implementation of workplace flexibility. Being willing to understand the range of factors management need to consider when approving requests including any business or job limitations, or the potential impact on other employees, customers or other stakeholders. Being self-aware and honest in their ability to work flexibly is essential as is the need to review the arrangement on a regular basis.

Planning for change – a practical guide and useful tips for successfully adopting workplace flexibility

 
 
1.  Assess current employee attitudes and their understanding of workplace flexibility through surveys, focus groups or observations to tailor the most suitable structure.  
 
  2.  A clear written policy on workplace flexibility is essential including the types of flexible work options available to staff and the application process.   
  3.  Check the policy aligns with organisational vision, mission and values to promote a flexible workplace culture and to demonstrate management commitment.    
  4.  Ensure equitable access to the policy and that those who work flexibly will have equal access to development, training and promotional opportunities.    
  5.  Train and educate management on strategies to ensure workers remain productive and engaged.  
  6.  Consider appropriate tools and technology required to support efficient work practices.   
  7.  Establish inclusive communication systems and practices such as scheduling meetings at times when all team members can attend, use shared calendars, online messaging and collaboration spaces and buddy systems to communicate informally.  
  8.  Monitor evaluate and review regularly to determine the effectiveness of flexible work arrangements. Use metrics such as absenteeism rates, employee performance, staff turnover as well as the uptake of flexible work options 
 
 
 

Case Study: AccountCom


AccountCom is NSW Hunter Valley-based business, specialising in outsourced Administration: BAS, Bookkeeping, Payroll and Human Resource Management. The company began its journey to workplace flexibility when it recognised the many challenges for women re-entering the workforce after taking time out of paid employment to raise a family. They developed several initiatives to support women in their endeavours to balance a successful career with family commitments which are outlined below.

Flexibility


AccountCom offer all employees family friendly flexibility agreements, not just parents with young children. Employees can negotiate a variety of employment terms and conditions, including part time and casual work, work from home, varied start times, flexi-time and time-in-lieu.

Training and development


AccountCom support their employees with financial assistance, paid and unpaid study leave and the opportunity for job rotation to increase their knowledge and learn from their peers. 

Buddy system


An essential part of AccountCom’s HR policy is up-skilling and cross-skilling of all employees. All team members undertake continual cross training so that everyone has a “buddy” that can step in and take over at short notice, efficiently and effectively. 
 
The AccountCom team

Workflow planning


When team members need to be out of the office for an hour or two for family commitments or for training/study, there is no interruption to the high level of service for clients. Workflow planning is also used extensively for the 12 weeks of school holidays, so that all employees can spend time with their families without productivity suffering.

Job Design


All regular tasks have a written procedure and checklist which are continually updated and refined. This assists the goal of encouraging employees to take time out of the office for their families and study commitments knowing that other team members can competently step in. New technologies are employed to assist in workflow management.

Communication


AccountCom avoid scheduling meetings early in the morning or late in the day to ensure all can attend. Online message groups and collaboration spaces are used to help all employees keep up to date. 

Documentation and HR Support


AccountCom use HR Advance to document their Workplace Flexibility Policies, Individual Flexibility Agreements and Employment Contracts.

The result


A genuinely supportive team who can prioritise and plan for staff flexibility. Employees are empowered to collaborate to achieve workable solutions without compromising on client service levels and expectations.

Productivity has improved through efficient time management skills, increased resourcefulness and engagement of innovative, efficient workers not afraid to move out of their comfort zone and try new things. 

Engaging a knowledgeable HR consultant and using a comprehensive HR people management tool such as HR Advance can help make workplace flexibility a model of success.