Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The right to request flexible work arrangements set to become more flexible

The flexible working issue is one again back in the headlines. The Federal Government is proposing to expand the opportunity for employees to request flexibility. It started with parents who have children under school age or a child with a disability under 18 years of age. Now they are proposing to offer it to all caregivers, mature age workers, and people experiencing domestic violence. 

Australia is not a trail blazer; we are simply playing catch up with other countries. For example, The UK brought in their right to request flexibility back in 2003. In 2014, they are working towards offering it to all employees – regardless of whether you are a caregiver or not. And don’t think it is a hard and fast law – in both the UK and Australia, the employer has the opportunity to refuse on reasonable business grounds. It is far better for an employer and an employee to work out a sensible flexible work arrangement that benefits both the employee and the business. Small businesses are particularly good at this. Communication is critical for it to work.

For employers out there, don’t panic. You won’t receive a flood of applications when the law is changed. Australia has a long way to go in terms of changing our workplace culture. Many of us (and our managers) still associate working hard with the number of hours we work as opposed to the quality of work we churn out. There are also managers who have the opinion that once you put your hand up to work flexibly, you are no longer serious about your career. These perceptions will continue to stop workers from asking.

Demographics, technology, traffic, illness, caring responsibilities and an ageing population will continue to challenge all of us to think about the way we work – and how we can work better. I think sometimes we forget that life happens while we are working.

Focus on a practical approach when it comes to receiving flexible work proposals. Rather than just state the flexible work arrangement required and for how long, ask employees to respond to the following questions:
  • Ask the employee to clarify their needs. Why do they require flexible arrangements?  You need to understand their reasons for requesting flexibility so you can assess it on a case-by-case basis and identify the most feasible options.
  • Ask the employee how they propose working flexibly could work and to provide several options for consideration.

  • What flexible working arrangements are they seeking? For example, they may wish to work school hours only. Are they able to suggest other flexible work options for consideration?

  • What are the potential positives and downsides of working flexibly for them and the business?

  • Ask the employee to review and analyse their job responsibilities to consider what elements of their job will be impacted.

  • How do they propose that it will work in terms of their existing workload?

  • Can they identify what work can only be done in the office versus what can be done at home/via phone/via email.

 Agree to trial the new working arrangements to assess if it will work. 

CareerMums and WorkLifeBliss run Flexible Work Masterclasses for managers. We do travel.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great article. As an employer in a small to medium business I offer/support flexibility in my workplace for both Mums and close to retirement workers that wish to work reduced hours.

The Federal Government must also consider that if a role is split in 2, and this is done in more than 1 role, then it changes our company employment status from small to medium, which can be restrictive for small businesses. They impose a head count criteria of 15 employees, and this irrelevant as to their full time or part time status. So yes let us support flexibility across all areas however please don't forget about the businesses that must manage this and perhaps unfairly, have some rights taken away because they simply offer more flexibility!!

CareerMums said...

That is a really valid issue. I emailed Bill Shorten's office and will share the response when I get it.