Flexible Work – it’s the new normal

By Jane Counsel, Senior Diversity Consultant, Executive Central

One job for life, 70-hour working weeks and long hours in the office are fast becoming a thing of the past as employees redefine their expectations about work and careers.

Powerful global megatrends of disruptive technology, the globalisation of work and changing employee demographics are transforming workplaces and changing the power dynamics between employees and organisations putting flexible work firmly on the agenda.

Hudson Recruitment’s 2015 State of Hiring in Australia Report found that work-life balance (flexible work) was now the number one priority of all jobseekers, ahead of salary increases and career progression.

Despite this, many Australian organisations are still struggling to meet the changing demands of employees for greater work-life balance.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which requires organisations to report their progress on achieving gender equality in the workplace, reports that although almost half of Australian companies had policies that enabled flexible work, less than 14% had a strategy for successful implementation.

What’s more, a 2015 Galaxy survey of 1,024 office workers reported that most employees felt their organisation was paying ‘lip-service’ to flexible work. Of those employees surveyed, 77% wanted to work flexibly, yet only 44% were currently able to utilise flexible work arrangements.

The data becomes even more alarming when you consider that Millennial employees, (aged between 18-34), regard flexible work and flexible careers as the norm and will be our dominant talent pool within the next 10 years. They have an average job tenure of 2.8 years and have no hesitation in shifting employers if they feel their personal requirements are not being met.

So why are so many Australian businesses still struggling to implement successful flexible work arrangements for all employees? Here are some common characteristics that I observe.

  • A compliance-driven approach: organisations are meeting their basic compliance obligations to provide flexible work arrangements to eligible employees under the Fair Work Act but there is no prevailing culture that supports flexibility.
  • A narrow definition of flexible work: the organisation’s definition of flexibility is limited to part-time work for working parents, employees with an illness or disability or older workers so the broader employee base often does not consider themselves eligible for flexible work.
  • Myths about performance: there are myths that go unchallenged that flexible workers are not engaged or ambitious and that providing them with flexible work will lead to poor performance.
  • No consistent process for implementation: a lack of official guidance often means the employee experience on flexible work is largely related to the quality of their relationship with their manager.
  • A lack of Leadership capability:leaders lack the tools and processes to successfully manage flexible work arrangements in their teams so the easier option often is to say no to requests for flexible work rather than to explore options that will work.
  • No senior leadership role-modelling: senior leaders are themselves not role modelling flexible work therefore there is a perception that workers who seek flexible work will be overlooked for promotion and development.

So what are the more progressive organisations doing?

Many are following the lead of Telstra which has implemented an “All Roles Flex” policy which assumes all job roles can be done flexibly and challenges the manager to prove why not.

Other organisations including the major banks, are focusing their approach on mainstreaming a culture of flexibility by building the capability of leaders to successfully lead and manage flexible teams as well as offering a broad range of options for employees on flexible work.

WGEA’s Equilibrium Challenge Flexibility campaign is also busting the myth that flexible work is not a viable career option for men as it follows the progress of a group of men implementing flexible work arrangements in their organisations.

Companies participating in this campaign are using the opportunity to promote flexible work to all employees.

So how do you start a new conversation about workplace flexibility in your organization?

It’s time to re-frame the conversation as a business imperative recognising that you risk losing talent and becoming less competitive domestically and globally if you are unable to support the changing working requirements of your employees.

Creating a culture of flexibility in your organization starts by building the capability of your leaders to find team-based solutions that support flexible work across the lifecycle of work and then to lead the change through active role-modelling and support.

Offering a broad range of flexible work options like study leave, sabbaticals, remote-based working and Grandparents Leave also demonstrates that flexible work is not just the domain of working parents, but rather a normal function of a modern workplace.

There is an army of data that demonstrates the benefits of flexible work for employee engagement, productivity and loyalty so join the wave of a growing trend and start a new conversation today.

To find out how Executive Central can assist with flexible work solutions for your organisation please contact Jane Counsel at: jane.counsel@executivecentral.com.au.

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