As Australia marks Flexible Working Day, one of the event’s ambassadors has sought to address some of the concerns employers have that are holding many back from introducing flexible ways of working.
Founder of Workable Wellness and author of Her Middle Name is Courage, Heidi Dening (pictured) — one of the ambassadors for Flexible Working Day in 2019, held on 22 May — quoted figures from the campaign as suggesting that 48 per cent of businesses do not have any formalised policies for offering flexible working arrangements for their employees.
It follows similar findings by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency in 2017.
“Not everyone is at their most energetic and productive between the hours of nine and five,” she told My Business.
“When you are given the opportunity to work at a time when your cognitive ability is at its peak, it can make a real difference to your output, as you will get more done in less time with fewer mistakes.
“It also reduces the wasted hours in a car or on public transport. I spoke with someone yesterday whose flexible work arrangements saves her 15 minutes of commute each way, each day. This doesn’t sound like much, but this adds up to be a saving of 120 hours a year. What a difference this makes to her life!”
According to Ms Dening, flexibility in work arrangements can also help people to better manage the competing demands on their time.
“Flexibility allows people to better meet the responsibilities of having a family, e.g. packing lunches, dropping kids off to school and walking fur-babies,” she said.
Employer concerns around productivity
One of the concerns many employers have about introducing flexible working arrangements is that their employees will actually be less productive, not more so, as distractions at home or scheduling constraints sap their ability, focus and attention.
Asked if such concerns are valid, Ms Dening said “these are definitely valid if there is not already a level of trust and commitment between the employer and employee”.
“If a team member believes in the values of your organisation, then they will always be looking for ways to do the right thing,” she said.
“However, if your employee doesn’t believe in what you do, or is unhappy with the culture, then the arrangement is not likely to work.”
Ms Dening also conceded that “not everyone works well without direction, supervision and constraints”, which employers can and do recognise, “hence their hesitation in allowing everyone to have flexible working arrangements”.
“It’s difficult to provide some employees with flexible work arrangements and some without — this will often lead to feelings of unfairness or bias,” she said.
The benefits to employees are fairly obvious, but what do employers get out of it?
This is another question My Business often comes across from employers, and so we put it to Ms Dening.
She responded by stating that some of the major benefits to employers come down to recruitment and retention of quality, skilled workers.
“Employers’ number one asset is their people, so it is crucial to understand that if you want to attract the most talented in your industry that you find a way to offer flexible work arrangements,” she said.
“Small business is hard, and replacing great people is not only stressful but it is also expensive. You also lose valuable IP, you put pressure on the remaining team members to pick up the slack, and you spend a lot of time getting a new person up to speed with their role.
“If you can create a culture of flexibility and trust, you are more likely to retain the most talented, proactive people within your industry.”
Ms Dening also pointed to the costs of absenteeism, which she said can increase if the only options available to workers are to come to work or “having a sickie”, and the positive effect on culture and morale that engagement, flexibility and trust can engender within a workplace.
So how to introduce flexibility?
“Flexible work arrangements can come in many forms and my suggestion is to take micro-steps and choose what is right for you,” Ms Dening explained.
She suggested that a flexible approach to work, which doesn’t adversely impact on the business’s bottom line or its operations, could involve a range of factors, such as:
- Patterns of Work, e.g. compressed hours or split shifts
- Hours of Work, e.g. part-time or job share
- Location of Work, e.g. teleworking at home or remote
- Leave Options, e.g. time in lieu or purchased leave
“I worked with a national not-for-profit whose most populated office was in Sydney. They had very conservative flexible working arrangements for a small proportion of their people,” Ms Dening said.
“When they decided to do a major fit-out in their Sydney office, they literally had no space available for their team members to work in. For six months while the renovation was going on, every single person had to work remotely and therefore they needed to completely change the way everyone communicated.”
In a bid to manage this shift, she said the business consulted widely with its workforce to identify and address potential pain points and bottlenecks, adjusted timelines and KPIs and introduced new technologies to cater to this changed way of working.
“People were so engaged with the process and felt challenged in a positive way about the upcoming arrangements. It really changed the energy and output of the majority of the teams,” Ms Dening said.
“I have no doubt (as we come to the end of the renovation) that once they measure the performance over the last six months, they will flip the way they do business on its head and move towards a far more flexible work environment [permanently].”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.