Get flexible – or lose your best employees!

The topic of flexible work is on everyone’s lips at the moment – especially your employee’s lips.

Recent commentary on employee engagement is strongly highlighting that the most desired benefit for employees is the option of flexibility in their jobs. In a recent study by Seek, work-life balance was the most important factor considered by more than a third of the almost 3000 Australian workers surveyed, ahead of job security and salary, when considering a new position.

The author of The Innovation Formula, Dr Imber, states that “one of the most powerful benefits for employees is time”. With everyone leading such busy lifestyles these days, it’s not surprising that this is the case. Who doesn’t need more time for themselves, whether it be to exercise, spend more quality time with friends and family or even to fit the grocery shopping in.

There are some organisations who have nailed it – or who are at least on their way to nailing it. Let’s take Suncorp for example. This company has been developing a ‘work anywhere’ culture over the last few years and has significantly increased its capacity to have employees working from home. Organisations such as Suncorp understand that implementing flexible work practises will improve their ability to hire the best talent and improve company performance due to having a more engaged workforce. Certainly within conversation circles I have had exposure to, working for Suncorp has become much more attractive for employees who seek flexibility.

Recently voted best place to work in Australia, PwC, is another notable mention. It has implemented flexible working in all areas across its professional services group. According to Business Insider, employees get the opportunity to design their role, deciding whether to work remotely or within the office.

So we know that a workplace with flexibility attracts better candidates; we know that employees who have access to flexible work practises are more productive; we know that engagement rises when flexibility is an option which in turn reduces turnover and absenteeism and improves the bottom line; so why then are so many employers still failing to offer genuine flexible work options as a benefit?

Could it be that employers are worried about losing control of their work forces? Or is it that employers don’t know how to implement such schemes? Are employers too busy? Or is it that they lack innovation and are worried what the unknown will bring? Or perhaps it is the perceived cost or operational impact employers are worried about?

My intention in writing this post was not to attempt to answer any of those questions, but rather to provide a helping hand to SMEs who are curious about flexible work options as a workplace benefit, and who are open to taking a leap of faith to become more desirable employers.

Below are six common flexible work arrangements that employers who are new to the world of flexible work options could consider.

1. Job share

Job sharing is a great option for where there are two employees who wish to work part time and there is one position available for both employees to share. For example, if there was one full time role (38 hours), two employees would mutually agree to a set number of days each week. This arrangement could be divided any way that works for all parties involved. However, a common scenario is where one employee works two days per week every week, and the other works three days per week every week (or the employees alternate between two and three days per week).

2. Reduced work hours

Sometimes employees may wish to have a few hours spare each week to spend on other interests such as completing study, joining a sporting organisation or helping out at their children’s school. By allowing an employee to reduce their working hours by a few hours each week, the employee is able to pursue the things that make them happy without impacting the business in a major way. Over the years I have observed that often the same work output is achieved by the employee where there is a reduced work hours arrangement. Perhaps one explanation for this result is that allowing employees the benefit of flexibility improves happiness and engagement at work, which translates to better productivity (all for reduced salary and wages too!).

3. Condensed work week

A condensed work week occurs when an employee’s regular hours are spread over a shorter period than usual. For example, for an employee who works 38 hours over five days, under a condensed work week the employee would work the same 38 hours over four days, resulting in longer shifts each day. This option is popular with employees as they receive an additional day off per week as a result. However, the employer should ensure adequate breaks are taken to avoid fatigue.

4. Nine day fortnight

Popular in government departments, the nine day fortnight sees the employee working a slightly longer day for nine days of the fortnight, which allows them to take the tenth day off as a rostered day off (RDO). While most employees prefer to tack the RDO on to a weekend to make a long weekend, the employer can negotiate a day that suits if a Monday or Friday is not practical for business.

5. Remote working

Remote working is often described as ‘working from home’, but with today’s technology remote working doesn’t need to be limited to one work space. Increased access to laptops and other devices, wireless internet, teleconferencing, remote system access capability etc, has meant that work can literally be done from anywhere. The option to work remotely is a much sought after benefit, and if your company is willing and able to offer it, it will be a step ahead of many other employers in the desirability stakes. One thing to highlight is that employers can choose how they offer remote working options and can still remain in control of performance outcomes by measuring outputs rather than focusing on minutes in the office. Some employers offer employees the ability to work remotely for half a day each week, some for one or two days per week, and others for the entire week. It’s entirely up to the employer, but rest assured even offering something small will be highly valued by employees.

6. Altered work times

Navigating one’s way through peak hour traffic really is one of the most painful and unproductive ways to commence the work day. To assist employees to avoid peak traffic times, many employers promote altered hours. For example, where the work day starts at 9.30am and runs until 6:00pm, rather than from 8:30am to 5:00pm, or alternatively an earlier than usual start and finish. Altered hours can also assist working parents to be able to drop/pick up their kids from school, or have enough time to exercise. Again, employers can offer altered hours a few times per week or for the whole week depending on operational needs. Another option is to allow employee A to start later on Monday and Wednesday and employee B to start later on Tues and Thursday if coverage is an issue.

On a final note, if any business owner or leader just read each of the six flexible arrangements above and noticed themselves thinking “we can’t do that one”, or “that one won’t work here” etc, I challenge you to change your thinking to “how can we do this” and “how can we make it happen”. Some flexible work practises are achievable in the vast majority of workplaces – the key success factor is a strong desire to change, improve and make it happen.

Prior to implementing any of the above flexible work options, it is highly recommended that employers introduce a Flexible Work Policy to support these activities. Additionally, requests for flexible work arrangements are protected as one of the 10 National Employment Standards (NES) therefore there are specific rules that should be followed in relation to employees making specific requests.

If your business would like help with introducing flexibility into the workplace or if you need guidance on the NES, Industryus HR can assist. Our experienced HR consultants can work with you/your managers to develop a plan that is not only compliant with Fair Work legislation but that is also practical and realistic for your business.

Contact us on 07 5655 4047 or click here for a Free Introductory Call about our HR services. We come to you.

Human Resources Gold Coast, Brisbane, Tweed, Logan, South East Queensland and Northern NSW.

Back to News