Why work flexibility is important for your employees

Despite the economist John Maynard Keynes predicting that the advent of technology (machinery, electricity etc.) would mean that, at some point in the future, we’d all be on a working week of just 15 hours. We all know things haven’t quite worked out that way.

The 2017 Australian Census found that those involved in manual labour worked the most hours in the country, twenty per cent of those in the real estate industry were putting in over 49 hours of work a week, and overall men are twice as likely to put in overtime than women, while women in full-time employment are twice as likely as men in full-time employment to do 15 hours of unpaid work a week.

In other words, we are strapped for time, and technology has not been the liberator we thought it would be. The only thing that can break this trend are people themselves, and those running today’s organisations and businesses.

In 2018, a New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, experimented with a four-day weekend and found that its employees reported less stress and greater commitment to their work, suggesting the potential for a four-day week to maintain or even boost productivity and quality of output in the workplace. by 50

Beyond reducing working hours for your entire staff, flexibility in your workplace may be key to improving mental health and the quality of staff output.

Why may employees want flexible working arrangements?

Our cities are growing but our jobs are predominantly staying in the same place. This means that our urban populations are increasingly pushed out as they expand their families and face higher living costs close to work. On top of this, the proportion of women in the workforce has steadily increased over the past half century, with the Commonwealth Bank revealing that female participation rates in the labour workforce have increased by 50 per cent over the past 40 years, compared to male participation rates decreasing by 13 per cent over the same period.

These changes demand greater flexibility from our businesses, as simply sitting in traffic can triple your chances of having a heart attack. 

Studies show that flexible working arrangements promote a stronger perception of job quality for employees, but this is not black and white. There are some signs that job progression and development can be hindered by the practice, which is all the more reason to become acquainted with how this growing trend should be approached from a business management point of view.

How to instill workplace flexibility in your business

Make things clear. Workplace flexibility is still a relatively nascent idea in business, which means that there can be confusion for employees as to what is deemed ‘acceptable’ and what processes are involved in working flexibly.

If you welcome the idea of a flexible workplace, make sure this is made clear to employees in terms of their contract and their employee handbook. State exactly how flexibility is expressed in your business, what steps employees can take to incorporate it, who they should talk to, etc.

This will save you considerable future HR headaches, such as when your business values are not aligned with an individual manager’s expectations of their staff.

Experiment where you can. Why leave it to a company in New Zealand and a few other companies around the world? If you think your business could benefit from a shorter week (i.e. late starts on Friday or a four-day week), then experiment with these ideas in an inclusive way with your staff. Make sure it doesn’t feel like a top-down initiative but something that your staff are involved in as a joint company effort. Make them feel a part of a shifting societal view on how we value work and productivity. Be transparent in your findings and your intentions, so that they are open and transparent about how they believe these changes are influencing their work.

Consider career development. How can those who work flexibly (eg. work remotely 1-2 days per week) still feel engaged with your workplace and not suffer from a lack of progression and career development opportunities? These answers may be found in the communications and project management tools you use, an open and transparent workplace, incorporating programs into your workplace that promote career progression and training, having on going conversations with employees about their flexible working arrangements and how they align with their goals, etc.



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