How small businesses can attract BIG talent through offering flexible working arrangements.

Are you wondering what offerings you can provide to attract and retain talent in today’s job market?

Do you need to discover how flexible working arrangements can work in your business?

Intrigued?   Then read on to learn more about this growing HR Trend and how you can be a flexible employer.

My professional journey started with what was one of the largest recruitment and HR firms in Australia. I started in my 20’s. The expectations and culture of this employer were set very early. And that was, that you worked long hours. Monday morning meetings started at 7.30am and consultants were expected to stay until 6pm at a minimum and often longer with pressing deadlines. It was the norm and, in return, many consultants were handsomely rewarded (perhaps not so handsomely when you drill down to the hours worked) and we were convinced it was our privilege to work for a company of this stead.

Fast forward 20 years and it’s not dissimilar in the “Big 4” or large Professional Services firms in the CBD. HOWEVER, the game changer is the expectations from our workforce today. One study has found that millennials expect to work longer than previous generations but they also expect to have flexibility. In another study, almost 80% of respondents aged between 28 – 35 reported that they desired the option to work remotely. What this means is that while there will be the group of job-seekers who are keen to have “the name”, “the brand”, “the exposure” on their resumes, there is an increasing number of job-seekers and employees who seek work-life balance as a number one priority (over salary, over employer reputation).

Picking up on my story, I was a product of a professional services background and I never thought I could access flexible working arrangements. With my first son born in Hong Kong, I experienced work (not life) but that was customary for return to work mums – you employed a nanny and they looked after your child. Something foreign to me but you became accustomed to it. However, back in Australia and having my second son was where I first accessed flexible working arrangements. Whilst it wasn’t formal, my employer asked me to work on a couple of assignments and I quickly realised that my profession could be scaled back to a flexible arrangement to accommodate family.

When I returned to Geelong I planned my business when my daughter was nine months old, launched it when she was one and slowly built the business flexing around my family needs. And so today, it’s intuitive to have flexibility offered for workers who also have other commitments. I have been fortunate to gain qualified recruitment and HR managers, happy to take an administrative role and providing so much more value than this because I offered flexibility. I have had high pedigree recruiters join who have worked anywhere from 3-day weeks or 9-day fortnights to accommodate family and we’ve made it work.

Many of you may have walked down this pathway of attempting to introduce flexible working arrangements and feel you have failed. Or maybe you are still refining your approach to flexibility or yet to introduce yourself to this new world of work. Let’s explore why workplace flexibility makes sense.

 

Why has ‘flexibility’ gained notoriety over the years?

Firstly, the world of work is changing. Many organisations have tools that allow for remote working today or some form of flexible arrangements. We have laptops, surface pros, tablets and mobile phones all mini computers usually with all the tools of our trade available whenever and wherever we want. This has resulted in a significant shift in the way people work. We are seeing more freelance workers working in virtual offices and so too can many of our employees should they wish.

Many organisations are moving away from attendance to outcomes based measures for employee performance. If outcomes can be delivered outside the parameters of the work place then this opens the opportunity for home based or remote based working.

Now, flexible working while easier to conceive for office workers, it’s not just available for office workers. Where attendance is required to perform the duties, your employee can access flexibility through giving them the ability to design their own rosters with remote access through rostering and shift swapping applications; flexible start and finish times; combining and sharing roles, for example; four days in an operational role and one day that allows for remote working.

Let’s look at why this makes sense.

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, attracting and retaining diverse talent is crucial for future-proofing the workplace and the Australian economy more broadly. Making workplaces more flexible and responding to the needs of employees is a key way of doing this. Flexible working is increasingly recognised as a valuable way to attract and retain employees across all age groups and genders.

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency it drives employee engagement, adds to productivity as well as boosting employee well-being and happiness.

Access to flexible working is clearly linked to:

 Improved organisational productivity

Why are flexible working arrangements linked to improved organisational productivity? It’s been demonstrated that when employees are engaged in their work, they are more productive. For a “flexible worker” this can include an appreciation for gaining the work in the first instance and the opportunity which sees them engaged in work. What’s more, flexible workers work compressed hours. The time for water cooler conversations go out the window as they are there to do the work, knowing that they have other commitments that follow shortly thereafter.

It’s about treating employees like “grown ups”; letting them manage their own time being the best way to get them to take responsibility and put in their best effort.

In 2017, the New Zealand financial firm Perpetual Guardian trialled a four-day working week on the condition that employees continued to meet their performance targets. The company reported that employees were happier and that productivity had increased by 20%. The company has now made the four-day week a permanent option for all of its full-time employees.

An enhanced ability to attract and retain employees

A big plus for employers is to provide an offering that puts you at a competitive advantage over many other employers in the region. The Harvest Geelong HR Index, undertaken in March 2019, revealed just under one-third of those employers surveyed are addressing new working arrangements. This is an opportunity for employers to step up to attract some great talent that find more fixed and inflexible arrangements is just not an option.

According to Zenefits’ study on flexible working arrangements, 77% of employees consider flexible working arrangements a major consideration when evaluating future job opportunities and 36% of employees are likely to leave their current employer due to a lack of flexible work arrangements.

Suncorp Bank has made significant changes to its operating model in order to accommodate a more flexible way of working for over 600 of its contact-centre staff. Suncorp has implemented ‘Work at Home Hubs’, which combine home work stations with working spaces attached to regional shopping centres. Contact-centre employees are now able to do most of their shifts from their own homes. Software enables staff to have more control over their own rosters and they can elect to pick up extra shifts when it suits them. Suncorp reports that as a result of these changes they have seen improvement in employee engagement, reduction in employee turnover and increased positive customer experiences.

Improved employee wellbeing

Where work and life are balanced, employee wellbeing is achieved. Many employees are opting out of the 38 hour week, and this is particularly true of the younger generations seeing a total life balance as more important than the dollars.

Flexible working can give employees the autonomy to balance their other commitments such as caring for children, people with disabilities, the sick or the elderly. Flexible working can also help employees to manage their time to allow for hobbies, studying or to keep fit. One organisation found that employees who participated in a work-from-home trial also reported higher rates of work satisfaction.

A joint study conducted by the University of New South Wales, the Black Dog Institute and the National Mental Health Commission recommends flexible work as an effective workplace intervention. The report found that increased job control was linked to better mental health outcomes among employees. The report also illustrates the benefits that flexible work has for carers of people with mental illness.

An increased proportion of women in leadership

Many women through competing family pressures, opt out of leadership positions. A flexible offering can see women not only attain but thrive in leadership positions. Research also demonstrates that companies with more part-time managers have better gender-balance at an executive level.

Future proofing the workplace

This is where the bulk of our workers are heading. Semi-retired and portfolio careers and lifestyles are now the consideration of mature workers and it will increasingly become the norm for new and next generations. And, of course it increases female workforce participation rates at a national level. By addressing FWAs now you will be prepared for the future of work which will continue to become more and more flexible.

The move to flexible work as the “new normal” has certainly been an evolution but let’s turn now to the law.

Who’s eligible for flexible working arrangements?

The Australian National Employment Standard in the Fair Work Act 2009 (the NES) applies to all employees covered by the national workplace relations system and includes a right for certain employees to request flexible working arrangements from their employer.

The requests may be made by: permanent employees who have completed at least 12 months of continuous service with their employer immediately before making the request; and casual employees who have been employed by the employer on a regular and systematic basis for a sequence of periods of employment of at least 12 months immediately before making the request.

Eligible employers are entitled to request a change in their working arrangements if they:

are the parent, of have responsibility for the care of a child who is of school age or younger

are a career

are 55 years or older

have experienced violence from a member of their family,

provide care or support to a member of their immediate family or household, who requires care or support because of violence from their family

Examples of changes in working arrangements may include:

changes in hours of work including reduced hours and changes in start and finish times

changes in patterns of work such as job sharing or split shifts

changes in location of work including work from home

It is unlawful under the Fair Work Act to take adverse action against an employee including termination. Under State and Federal law it is also unlawful to discriminate against employees directly or indirectly in their employment, because of their family or carer’s responsibilities.

Employers must accommodate their employees’ family and carer responsibilities where it is reasonable to do so. Whether a refusal to accommodate such request is unreasonable will depend on the facts and circumstances of the particular situation. A defence is available to employers on the basis that an adjustment is not reasonable  it would cause an unjustifiable hardship on the employer taking all circumstances into account, including consideration of

  1.  the benefits of the arrangement to the employee, other staff and clients
  2.  the effects on the employer and all the people involved if they don’t provide the arrangement
  3.  the costs involved in relation to their financial circumstances.

Reasonable grounds for refusal for a small employer may differ vastly to those that are reasonable for a large, well resourced employer.

Types of Flexible Arrangements can include:

  1. telecommuting or working remotely
  2. shortened work week through a compressed work schedule
  3. adjusted work hours
  4. part-time work
  5. job sharing
  6. vacation time flexibility

Communication is paramount

Many an employer embraces the concept of offering flexibility however, flexibility can sometimes be provided at the expense of inclusivity. While the work aspect of the flexible worker’s job can remain the same, often employees can feel ostracised if they do not feel they are part of the workplace culture. Aspects of corporate culture can include, general communications at work, workplace rituals (such as team meetings, Friday drinks, end of month lunches), and just generally feeling included. While this goes two ways employers need to address how they can make this work.

Consider,

  • Your communications.

How are you communicating with your team members?

How do people know what’s going on at work?

One of the biggest issues flexible workers have is that “they are the minority” and “they are left out”.

Consider changes to your communications processes to allow for remote and flexible workers. We use What’sApp, other companies use “slack” for their morning huddles. We have created a “morning huddle, daily wrap up” company wide communications platform as well as team specific ones for teams with flexible workers. This allows for all staff members to know what’s going on, even when they aren’t in the office. While the supervisor may take responsibility for the comms, other team members, especially those that work hand in hand with the flexible worker should also share the responsibility of reaching out to their peers and this may not be natural for team members.

  • Consider project boards such as Trello. Trello is an app version of an agile work board. It is perfect when teams are sharing jobs and workflows so all can see what is being done as work moves through the board. If you are in a rostered work place consider how your employee can input their availability around their work and how team based rostering can come into play.
  • Reconsider how you have team celebrations. For example, don’t always do Friday drinks if you have staff leave for school pick up or who don’t work Friday. Make team celebrations diverse and inclusive for all.
  • Ensure you have a communication check-in as soon as possible when your staff member is back, bring them into the fold and let them know anything else that they may have missed.

It is important your employee has ground rules and expectations for how they work and your expectations from them as a flexible worker. No truer is the saying, out of sight out of mind. Often as employers we can lose sight of a flexible workers work so it is imperative that the flexible worker has a water tight communication strategy around their work. What’sApp, Slack and Trello boards are workable solutions. You may seek handovers and notes of handovers from employees who job share to ensure that the work has been effectively passed on to another team member. You may seek formal emails to keep track of the work. The employee needs to take a significant amount of responsibility for communication to team members and their supervisor. This needs to be embedded into a remote employee or flexible worker prior to them being granted flexibility. Often things come undone in flexible working arrangements through lack of visibility of the work and this often comes down to the communication between the employee and employer. I’ve known employers to abandon flexible working arrangements saying “We tried flexible working arrangements but it didn’t work”.  Employers have a duty to look for ways to make it work and employees have responsibility to continue to be present (over present often) to make up for the fact that they are not physically at the workplace.

Diversity Council of Australia last year launched ‘Future-Flex’. Its initiative focused on “mainstreaming flexibility by team design” emphasising the need to move away from ad hoc arrangements for individuals and towards involving their teams to redesign work. Specifically, the guidelines recommend: reviewing the components of all team members’ jobs (e.g. tasks, duties, responsibilities, location, timing), rather than just one individual employee’s; and having employees and managers work together to come up with team-based flexibility solutions, rather than managers doing this in isolation or with just one employee.

With a bit of planning and lots of communication, flexible working arrangements may just benefit your organisation. The Harvest HR & People Solutions team are here to assist you introduce flexible arrangements into your workplace.

As presented by Maree Herath, HR Roundtable and Geelong Small Business Festival, August 2019. 

 

Resources:

Fair Work “Flexible working arrangements”

Smart Company “Flexible work for everyone; the evolution to a new normal”

Diversity Council of Australia “Future-Flex – Mainstreaming Flexibility By Design”

Zenefits “7 big statistics about the state of flexible work arrangements”

WGEA The Business Case for Flexible Working Arrangements

Sydney Morning Herald “Flexible Working Becoming the Norm”

HR Daily “Types of Flexible Work Arrangements”

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