Provided that employees are still receiving their minimum entitlements, employers and employees can negotiate ways to make work life flexible. This allows for a healthy work/life balance for employees and a productive business environment.
Under the National Employment Standards, some employees who have worked for the same employer for at least 12 months can request flexible working arrangements. This can include changes to hours, patterns or locations of work.
Employment standards aside, an increasing number of businesses are implementing flexibility as a part of their general employment policy. In fact, 70% of Australian businesses now allow flexible arrangements.
We spoke to three employees of major Australian companies to see how they implement flexibility in the workplace, and what it means to their company culture.
What is workplace flexibility?
Flexibility is diverse and has a varied definition within different businesses. Victoria Muscat, Talent Acquisition Partner at Telstra, defines workplace flexibility as “the ability to have the freedom to work at your own pace and take control of your own work. It is the ability to trust employees to get on and do their job effectively and efficiently without micromanaging your staff.”
Practically speaking, workplace flexibility can include variable starting and finishing times, options to work from home when needed or even the option to work standard weekly hours in a condensed period, such as over four days instead of five.
A flexible workplace environment also allows offices to have an adjustable structure. Desk sharing or hot desk arrangements, for example, gives employees the opportunity to change up their seating arrangement and work alongside different colleagues during the week. Simple elements of workplace flexibility like this can make an office environment a more positive and communal place to work in.
“It’s all about giving people choices and more control over work schedules,” says Recruitment Leader, Maureen Bell from Flight Centre Travel Group. “A flexible work culture allows employees to make their own choices so that individuals can balance both work and personal commitments to achieve a work/life balance.”
Why does flexibility matter?
Flexibility in the workplace offers many benefits to employees and companies as a whole. From a business perspective, flexible working has been linked to:
- Improved organisational productivity
- Improved employee acquisition and retention
- Improved employee well-being
- An increased proportion of women in leadership
By implementing flexible policies, companies actively acknowledge employees’ unique needs, which is a key tenet of a successful culture. Management teams who are active in finding creative ways to motivate workers are more likely to attract and retain loyal employees.
“I see flexibility having such a positive impact on employee well-being,” observes Muscat at Telstra. “I see employees are happier as they have strong working relationships and trust between colleagues to deliver. Employees are more motivated to get on and do their work as there is a level of autonomy with their work to deliver. This flow-on effect then has an impact on the type of work that is produced, which therefore impacts our customers in a positive way.”
With more millennials entering the workforce, organisations simply can’t afford to overlook the importance of flexible work. Younger workers want to be able to work flexibly and will overlook the established 9-to-5 workplace in favour of an organisation that can provide the right cultural fit.
Today, most employees are looking for positions in companies that understand success isn’t measured by the time spent in the office, but rather the quality of work they are producing. Therese Selvadsen, Head of HR ASEAN Pacific at Philips, agrees: “If you perform and you are doing well then that’s great – it’s not so much about all the hours you put in but more about the output that comes from your work.”
It’s not just about hiring and retention
Whilst attracting and retaining employees is one of the biggest incentives for a company to implement flexible work, it is also important to look at the broader impacts of what flexible work can do for employees.
Selvadsen thinks flexibility is important because “we need the next generation to grow up, so we need to live in the world. Working parents are really good role models for the children that we need to contribute to society. Therefore, it is important for companies to support those working parents.”
Not only does flexible work help employees balance their personal and professional lives, but it also drives greater productivity. One report found that 78% of employees believe flexible work arrangements make them more productive.
Bell at Flight Centre Travel Group echoes this finding: “When employees can choose their hours and where they work, they become more engaged and committed to the workplace. This leads to higher productivity levels, less turnover and reduced absenteeism.”
Productivity, creativity and innovation flourish in an environment that allows people to work in ways that best suit them. That’s why, ultimately, workplace flexibility is a key marker of a diverse and inclusive culture in which every employee can thrive.