woman working on computer with cute cat on her lap, illustrating flexible work conditions

The billion dollar benefit of flexible work

For those of you who haven’t already marked it in your calendar, get out the highlighter! This Friday 2nd June 2017 is Leave the Office Early Day.  The day, originally created in the US by Employee Productivity Specialist, Laura Stack, is designed as an incentive for overworked employees to get a little bit of ‘me’ time back.

 

As many of us try and find the right balance between work, family, friends, hobbies, and all the bits in between, this day should serve as a prompt for us all to consider how we might achieve a little more balance in our lives, not just one day a year, but every day.

 

Several European countries have earned international attention by shaking up ‘traditional’ work practices in a bid to boost productivity and happiness. Sweden has been trialing a six-hour work day since 2015; France recently banned employees checking work e-mails after hours; while the average employee in Denmark works 35 hours a week and working overtime is frowned upon.  And, more generally across the world, companies are beginning to formalise remote and flexible work offerings for their employees.

 

These days there are changing expectations of how work and life should integrate, and work today is very different to how it was even a decade ago.  Advances in technology, remote connectivity, a changing population demographic and shifting societal values have led us to a place where flexible working arrangements are becoming a standard offering.  The idea that “work is something you do, not a place that you go” is certainly becoming more of a reality.

 

Research by recruitment firm Hays has reported that more than half of Australians would drop their salary by as much as 20 percent to be able to work from home and a further one in five would take a 10 percent cut. Results also revealed that 86 percent of employees consider flexible working options an important or very important factor for their engagement.  Similarly, a 2016 survey by Flexjobs found that almost 50% of employees have left a job or considered leaving due to a lack of access to flexible working arrangements.

 

Professor Barbara Pocock, Director of the Centre for Work + Life at University of South Australia, defines work-life balance as:

 

People having a measure of control over when, where and how they work. It is achieved when an individual’s right to a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work is accepted and respected as the norm to the mutual benefit of the individual, business and society.”

 

So, whether it’s the number of hours you work (e.g. altered start/finish times, reduced hours), the location in which you work (e.g. from home, on the move), or the schedule of work you follow (e.g. job sharing, flexible leave, career breaks), it seems that shaking up your daily grind can help restore some balance in your life – and who would say no to that?!

 

Pros and cons of flexible work

 

A 2013 study released in Australia by Ernst & Young found women working flexibly waste less time at work than other workers, and that creating more such roles would result in a $1.4 billion a year benefit in terms of recovering lost wages.

 

Additionally, in one of the first ever control-group studies conducted on flexible work, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that employees who undertook flexible work (compared to the group who did not) felt more supported by their manager, reported greater control over their schedules, greater job satisfaction, less burnout, and felt they had more time to spend with their families.

 

More broadly, the benefits of flexible work (for individuals and organisations) are varied and have been cited as being things like:

 

  • Improved work-life balance
  • Reduced commuting time and stress associated with traffic
  • Improved staff engagement and morale, reduced turnover
  • Employees feeling a greater sense of control over their work
  • Decrease costs associated with childcare and commuting
  • Increased efficiency – working smarter rather than longer
  • Improved employer brand, and attraction/retention of top employees

 

However, as with most initiatives that sound so enticing, there are barriers to consider that help paint the full picture, including:

 

  • Leaders may require training in managing the nuances of a flexible workforce
  • The application of flexible work may differ by role, causing a sense of injustice
  • Building the right company culture can be challenging, and may take time
  • Potential stigma attached to flexible work needs to be addressed
  • Managing a flexible workforce requires special effort (e.g., scheduling, handover of work etc)
  • Face-to-face time is still important, employees who thrive in office environment may suffer

 

So, with these things in mind, how are organisations making it work in the real world?

 

Examples from real world organisations

 

The 2016 Best Places to Work Study found that the 50 ‘best’ organisations offer their employees job sharing (54%), flexible scheduling (96%), compressed work week (30%), phased retirement (54%), and work from home/telecommuting options (96%).

 

LinkedIn, Netflix, and Virgin all offer their employees unlimited holidays, while PwC offers flexible scheduling and birthdays off. Microsoft has an “Anywhere Working” policy and Amazon are trialing a 30-hour work week. Furthermore, Deloitte offers employees a benefits package that includes paid parental leave, career breaks, volunteer leave and study leave, access to flexible working, and participation in charity events (amongst other things).

 

Telstra, realising their business is all about helping others connect ‘no matter where they are’, decided to embrace the concept internally, introducing an “All Roles Flex” Policy.  As a result of their 3-month pilot program (in customer sales and service) they found that female applicants increased, and 30% of candidates applied because of Telstra’s openness to flexibility. Subsequently “All Roles Flex” was adopted across all business units at Telstra.

 

Similarly, one of Westpac’s key people strategies launched in June 2015 offering an “All In Flex” approach to their 40,000 employees, believing that flexibility should be possible for everyone, regardless of their role.  Conversations regarding flexible working options commence from the get-go (during recruitment), and all advertised jobs emphasise that flexible working is an option. As part of the program, leaders are encouraged to be proactive in having discussions with their employees regarding flexibility, and are provided with the following guidelines:

 

  1. Make ‘yes’ the default answer when employees request flexible work
  2. Put flexibility on team meeting agendas
  3. Understand the flexible working options available
  4. Communicate flexibility as a benefit to the broader business
  5. Role model flexibility themselves

Westpac reports that 74% of their employees work flexibly, 83% of employees support flexible working, and 92% of employees believe working flexibly can effectively deliver customers’ needs.  Skeptically, I messaged a family member who works for Westpac to get the scoop on whether such a large organisation had successfully translated these ideas into practice.  Her response? “Yeah, we have an awesome flexible work arrangement. My office is even equipped with all the bells and whistles to make life easy! And I am actually working from home today!”.  Nice work Westpac.

 

Enabling flexible work

 

As a society, it seems our expectations to work remotely and flexibly are on the rise, and the notion of an 8-hour work day is becoming obsolete.  As such, it’s time for organisations to prepare for a future where flexible work is standard, and not the exception to the rule.  Here are a couple of key factors to consider when kick-starting the move towards flexible work within your organisation:

 

  • Policy and Procedures – develop clear guidelines and policies outlining your organisations flexible work options, and consider formalising these within individual employee contracts. Carefully consider how you can meet the needs of the business while offering a flexible workforce.
  • Technology – set up technology and invest in the right infrastructure to enable employees to work in different locations without compromising productivity
  • Leadership Support and Organisational Culture – ensure leaders role model desired behaviour and are trained in managing a flexible workforce. Provide active support and strong commitment from the CEO and leadership team regarding flexibility.  Build a culture of trust.
  • Encouragement and Education – Make employees aware of what options are available to them, and encourage all staff, regardless of role, to discuss and participate in flexible work

 

So, what does flexibility look like in your organisation? And what’s one thing you would change about your work schedule if you could?

 

(Fittingly, thanks to Revelian, I wrote half of this blog from the comfort of my loungeroom under the watchful eye of my dog! Stay tuned for: “Is it acceptable to wear pyjamas all day when working from home?”)

 

About the Author

 

Kate Cervetto joined our Client Services team way back in 2006, while completing her Masters in Organisational Psychology. Shortly afterwards, she moved to the Psychology team and started helping our clients to select the right person for the job and build more satisfied, productive and committed teams.

 

Kate has worked with a broad range of clients and businesses, from large-scale graduate programs, to consulting with individual managers on how to develop future leaders. Willing to take on any HR challenge – no matter how big or small – with compassion, enthusiasm and humour, Kate is highly respected and valued by both our clients and the rest of the Revelian team.