Three factors distinguish leading workplaces committed to supporting flexible work practices.
Many companies are working hard to normalise flexible working, as more and more Australians use technology to work in an agile and innovative way. Telstra, PwC, Origin Energy, and ANZ among others promote ‘all roles flex’ to shake long-held assumptions that jobs need to be full-time and based at an office or company site.
Numerous research studies show a markedly positive impact on productivity and employee engagement when companies offer flexible work arrangements. An IBM Survey of 675 CIOs and IT managers of large enterprises across multiple industries in Australia, China, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States found that on average, those taking action to create a more flexible workplace reported 20%+ improvements in productivity and cost saving.
Employees are more likely to recommend their company as a place to work when they work in companies where flexible work practices are widely used.
For companies that are developing or refreshing their approach to flexible work arrangements, we’ve found a few key principles make a big difference to acceptance and utilisation of flexibility among the hundreds of client firms we’ve supported on their diversity journey.
Three principles can be readily applied across different industries and types of workplaces:
1. ‘Flexibility’ is defined broadly.
It extends to how, when, and where employees work. Arrangements include formal options such as job-sharing or part-time work, changes to start and finish times. Arrangements also include informal, ad-hoc flexibility – usually the most requested type of flexibility – to meet short term needs, and most of these are agreed verbally or via email between the employee and their manager.
2. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the needs of the business, the team, and any potential impact to clients/customers.
Some roles, by the inherent nature of their tasks, lend themselves to less flexibility. That said, leading firms encourage managers to carefully consider all requests as part of a ‘can-do’ flexibility mind-set, and provide ‘reasonable business grounds’ for any requests declined. In a number of companies, managers who intend to decline requests have to seek approval from Human Resources – an ‘if not, why not’ measure that challenges traditional (albeit surprisingly resilient) assumptions that flexibility is ‘too complicated’ or will ‘set a precedent where everyone will want it’.
3. Decisions are ‘reason neutral’.
This important principle recognises employees have different needs at different times in their lives. Some need flexibility to juggle caring responsibilities, others may want flexibility to pursue a hobby or additional study, for example.
The ‘reason-neutral’ approach also tackles the prevailing bias that flexibility is okay for working mothers, but less so for fathers. While the percentage of fathers using flexible working hours to look after young children has nearly doubled to 30 per cent since 1996), men are twice as likely as women to have requests for flexible hours rejected. A Bain & Co/Chief Executive Women study of more than 1,000 employees across Australian workplaces last year found approximately 60% of men are working, have or want to work flexibly, but there’s still a lack of senior support.
There are many other principles adopted by leading firms outline in our ‘Guiding Principles for effective flexible work practices’. Please email us if you’d like a copy.
Diversity Partners has developed comprehensive toolkits that cover guiding principles, tip sheets, and a four-step framework guiding managers and employees through the process of applying for, and reviewing, flexible work arrangements. We draw on best practices, and customise the toolkits to your business.
We also facilitate ‘Making Flexibility Work for Everyone’ workshops to help organisations entrench flexible working successfully. We’d love to hear from you if you’d like to talk through your organisation’s flexibility strategy, education or policies.