Managing people

The benefits of flexible work practices

Flexible work arrangements can help your business attract and retain good employees by making it easier for them to balance work and lifestyle commitments.

Flexible work practices also enable your business to achieve a better match between staffing levels and workload or customer service demands. You also get access to a wider range of employees. Older workers, parents, and those undertaking further education find flexible arrangements more attractive.

Benefits of flexible working practices for employees and employers

With the challenges of an aging workforce, a smaller talent pool and growing concerns about competition, it makes sense to introduce different ways to work in your business. 

Does flexible work practices reduce employee turnover? In many cases, this is one of the upsides of adopting flexible work practices in your business. In addition, there are significant benefits for both employees and employers in providing flexibility for work and family balance, including being able to cast your net wider when seeking ideal employees, reduced absenteeism, improved productivity, and job satisfaction. 

Many organisations have successfully implemented workplace flexibility policies. This is through carefully designed and well-thought-out programs, and having a clear purpose statement for flexible work practices.

However, flexible work practices and employee turnover reduction and increased team morale are not a given. Barriers to implementing workplace flexibility can arise when either the employer perceives there may be costs or inconveniences associated with implementing flexible work arrangements that outweigh the benefits, or when employees believe taking advantage of available flexible work options may have negative consequences in terms of their position within the organisation.

Understand your options for flexible work arrangements

What are flexible work practices defined as? The answer depends on your business, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. When setting up flexible work practices, it’s important to know what options are available, how they impact your business and the benefits they’d bring staff.

Consider whether any of these work arrangements would suit your employees and your business.

Part-time work

This is defined as permanent employment on a regular pattern for less than the normal full-time hours per week. Most common arrangements are normal working hours for fewer days per week (e.g. two, three or four days), or Monday to Friday for fewer hours per day (e.g. 10am to 3pm).

Casual work

Common arrangements include working short but regular hours weekly (e.g. one or two nights per week), short periods of full-time employment (e.g. during peak business periods or relief work when permanent employees are on leave), being ‘on-call’ when required, or working irregular hours weekly.

Flexible working hours

Working hours are varied within a day, week or month, e.g. work start and finish times can be varied. Changes can cater for work demands (such as keeping the business open daily for longer hours), employees’ outside-work commitments (such as caring for children), and other issues (such as avoiding peak-hour commuting).

Most arrangements specify a ‘core’ period when all employees must be at work (such as 10am to 3pm) but start and finish times can vary.

Other arrangements include working different hours each month, with the employee required to meet an overall monthly average equivalent to normal hours. Annualised hours can be adopted, where the employee works a specified number of hours per year, but the actual amount varies from month to month. This may suit businesses in ‘seasonal’ industries. 

Further flexible working options

  • Job sharing involves two part-time employees performing a single full-time job between them (e.g. one employee works Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday and the other works Thursday/Friday). Duties can be shared, or different tasks can be allocated to each employee.

  • Rostered days off where typically four and a half days per week, nine days per fortnight or 19 days per four weeks are worked. The day off can be agreed in advance or varied according to workloads or employees' needs. Some awards and agreements contain provisions relating to rostered days off.

  • Working from home, which can be an ad hoc or permanent arrangement. The latter usually involves a split between being at the workplace and working from home.

  • A compressed workweek is allowing an employee to work full-time hours in fewer than five days per week, such as four x nine-hour days or three x 12-hour days.

  • 'Purchased' leave enabling employees to increase their annual leave entitlement in exchange for a pro-rata reduction of remuneration. For example, the employee takes eight weeks of annual leave each year instead of four and receives payment for 48 weeks per year instead of 52. 

  • Phased retirement, which enables mature-age employees to ease into retirement by reducing their working hours in stages, e.g. from five days per week to three, then to two, then to one.

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