flexible work is high on the agenda

Flexible working is becoming the new normal. While not appropriate for every organisation, there are comprehensive arguments for why most employers should offer it.

Work-life balance is important to Australian employees, whether they are seeking, or leaving work because of it. The ‘Randstad Employer Brand Research 2018’ shows it is one of the top four priorities for employees and states that employers should strive to meet this need in their offer. 

A good work-life balance, including working from home or flexi-hours, can also improve productivity. Organisations that promote themselves as pro-flexible working are in line with values that most employees hold, which can place them in a strong recruiting position.

Offering flexibility attracts recruits, as it can reduce time and expenses spent on commuting, and can enable parents to cater for childcare in a more flexible way. Employees are aware that technology set-up costs are nothing like the barrier they used to be to home-based working. Where employees sense their managers are resistant to flexible working for reasons that boil down to a lack of trust, employee retention and engagement is likely to take a nosedive.

Although Australians’ confidence in their ability to find work is currently high, employers should not feel that the demand for flexible working would decrease were the market to change. According to Aaron McEwan, HR advisory leader for CEB, we have reached a tipping point when it comes to flexibility. He says: “The Victorian public sector has announced all roles flex policy, the NSW public sector is doing the same thing. In the private sector companies like Telstra have led the way. And as employees see it normalised across all jobs, you get to a point where it’s not going to go backwards.”

A belief persists that employees who aren’t in the office are less productive. However, a long-running national survey of US workers with a 40-hour working week found that those who worked at least part of the time away from the office worked an average of three hours more per week than those who stayed at the office. Research shows that people work most effectively in intense bursts, such as for 45 minutes with some natural breaks, which can be an easier pattern to follow when working at home.

The US Life Meets Work Institute suggests some of the benefits of workplace flexibility encompass several areas 

  • economic benefits, such as higher productivity, greater innovation, better levels of employee engagement, better team and overall performance, and lower real-estate costs due to decreased demand for office floor space and parking spaces
  • employer branding and reputational enhancements. There are more opportunities for employees to be involved in community and CSR programs. This, in turn, gives the company a leg-up in the war for talent
  • employee health and wellbeing due to lower healthcare costs, better and more disciplined habits such as less presenteeism and absenteeism, and employees staying home when mildly sick with a contagious ailment but undertaking independent work
  • organisational effectiveness, including managing disaster planning, technical outages and inclement weather. All this is easier when employees can retreat to the home space and complete independent work ‘offline’ until everyone can log back on.

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