The nature of the workforce is changing. With the ageing of the population and changing labour market conditions, adopting a flexible approach to work helps businesses attract a diverse workforce including mature age workers, those in remote communities, parents and people with disabilities.

Flexible working and working from home in Australia and New Zealand is becoming widely accepted. In business today, flexible working isn’t an option – it’s a necessity.  There are many employees wanting to work flexibly for any number of reasons. And there are several great benefits to employers that allow this option.

Apart from your legal obligations, businesses are appreciating more and more how flexible working can benefit their performance through improved staff motivation and productivity. Research shows that implementing flexibility helps improve productivity as employees have increased levels of engagement, job-satisfaction and well-being.

What is flexible working?

Where once we were told to aim for eight hours of work, eight of play and eight of rest, these days we are realising such a rigid schedule rarely works for the best. Professionals tired of being pressured into taking work home, working longer hours, and facing a grim daily commute are looking outwards for better lifestyle options.

Flexible working is an agreement between employers and employees that afford them differing work arrangements from the regular 9 to 5. These arrangements could include:

  • Working from home
  • Flexible rosters
  • Flexible work start and finish times
  • Flexible arrangements for leave
  • Regular part-time work
  • Rostered days off
  • Compressed working weeks, e.g. compressing your normal work hours into less days
  • Job-sharing

A flexible working arrangement generally consists of employees and employers choosing where the employee works from, the work schedule that is best for them and scheduling their work day.

As an employer you may think that flexible working is geared towards the employee and that there are no benefits to your business. However there are many benefits to offering flexible work for companies, that go beyond having happier employees.

The benefits of flexible working for businesses

These days people want to find jobs which allow them to work flexibly in a way that allows them to arrange their own timetables, create more time for family, career development and enjoyment, as well as increased job satisfaction.

To this end, employers are catching on to the fact that they need to offer more flexibility to their employees if they are going to hold on to a loyal and productive workforce. But there are also many other benefits to businesses if they choose to go down a more flexible route.

Attracting great workers

More and more people are looking for flexible working in their job search. Offering flexible working arrangements is a major factor in being able to attract the best candidates to any job opportunities you have.

A global study conducted by IWD of more than 15,000 people in 2019 found that if presented with 2 similar job offers, 83% of people would choose the one that offered flexible working options. The survey also found that 85% of Australian businesses are offering flexible work of some description which means if a business is still stuck in rigid work practices, they are lagging behind and might be missing out on attracting key talent.

Flexible working, particularly remote working, can also allow a business to widen their search for talent as they are no longer restricted to the area their offices are in.

Retaining your employees

According to a 2016 survey by CPA Australia, the main reasons for people to ask for flexible working practices are caring for children and achieving a work life balance, with most people requesting being between the ages of 30 – 49.

The same study found that women are more likely to request flexible work then men. This may be due to the nature of women more likely being responsible for the day to day running of their household and trying to fit work and life in together. But men are increasingly wanting to create a better work life balance as well and are sharing the parenting responsibilities much more evenly then ever before.

By allowing employees to work from home or take on flexible work practices – working outside the usual nine to five to allow employees to pick up their children, for example – employers can guarantee that staff will be happier, more productive, and more likely to stick with them.

Employees will stay longer with a company if they are happy, and the work they are doing suits their lifestyle and obligations. This in turn reduces turnover and training costs for businesses as they are not having to hire and train new employees.

Productivity benefits

Your first thought as an employer might be that if you allow your employees more flexibility or the ability to work from home, their productivity will decrease as they are not being monitored. However, the reality of this is generally the opposite.

Just because someone is turning up to an office on a daily basis, doesn’t mean they are working productively. In fact, a 2019 survey of over 1000 employees found that 56% of office workers were finding ways to avoid working with only 39% of remote workers doing the same, and on average remote workers worked 1.4 days more a month.

Many studies have shown a positive connection to flexible working arrangements and increased productivity with employees actually working better, longer and with less absenteeism.

A trial by New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian of a 4 day work week actually saw an increase of productivity of 20% as well as happier employees.

Improving Workplace Diversity

Offering flexible working improves workplace diversity and inclusion as return to work mothers, carers, mature age workers and workers with a disability are the ones who will benefit from flexible working the most.

It’s not just parents and carers who can benefit from flexible working. This sensible and modern approach to work is something that can improve the lives of everyone. If you can cast a wider net of who you are able to employ through flexible working, then you can end up with the best candidates possible.

Offers better measures for success

So many managers judge an employee’s success rate by what they can see, rather than what the employee does. They will often judge a person by how much they are in the office, rather than the work being completed.

When you are in a more flexible environment, companies need to re-evaluate what makes a successful employee. Employees meeting their deadline and key performance indicators, whether in the office or not, will be more highly valued then those that sit at their desk for 10 hours per day seeming like they are doing work.

Better relationships with your employees

The best companies to work for are those that show respect and empower their employees. One of the best ways to do this is through flexible working schedules and working from home. This shows you have enough respect and trust in the people in the business to allow them some flexibility.

Embracing this flexible working relationship benefits the business as well as the employee through:

  • Fewer missed days at work eg. if you should not be in an office but aren’t sick enough that you can’t get some work done; or have an appointment that would previously necessitate a day off if you weren’t allowed to work from home.
  • Less turnover of staff if employees feel they can negotiate flexible working in a situation that may have previously needed them to quit.
  • Longer careers of knowledgeable employees who are looking to relocate or want to downsize into a part time role.

A greener workplace

Both companies and employees can improve their carbon footprint through flexible working, especially working from home. Employees working from home don’t have to commute. Because of this there is less carbon monoxide being released in the atmosphere.

Businesses can save money and benefit the environment from flexible work practices as well. If all of their employees aren’t in the office at the same time, they can rent smaller premises and use less electricity and water, helping to reduce their negative impact on the environment.

Improved mental health

Long commutes and workplace stress is a big factor in peoples mental health. Having a better work life balance that results in less stress improves mental health greatly. Flexible working can offer this to a lot of people as well as giving employees a sense of control in their everyday life.

Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working. Reducing the conflict between work and life by offering some flexibility can reduce stress and anxiety, leading to happier and more productive workers.

The issue of finding and attaining a good balance between work and personal life is a growing trend for job seekers when making career decisions. Balancing work with family and personal responsibilities is a challenge in our busy lives, and those companies that make it easier to find that balance will be rewarded with more content employees.

The concept of working from home, flexible working and telecommuting has gained momentum over the past few years and is widely becoming accepted, recognized, and formalized across the board. All tiers of Government and private sector companies are recognizing the benefits of work life balance initiatives. There are even companies who help employers become more family friendly.

For employees still stuck in an office for ten hours a day and a two hour commute, be assured that there are other choices out there – many companies offer partly or entirely work-from-home positions, flexible timetables and family-friendly employment practices. It is simply a matter of searching for them. Or if you already have a job you love you might want to approach them about flexible working arrangements.

Australian data from the 2007 National Work/Life Benchmarking Study conducted by Managing Work|Life Balance International in conjunction with CCH Australia, found that best practice organisations reported the following key benefits from flexible work arrangements:

37% stated that their work/life balance strategy contributed to a reduction in absenteeism

88% stated that flexible work place practices have helped to manage staff more effectively

79% reported a positive impact on work productivity

76% stated that flexible workplace practices enabled them to consistently attract and retain the best possible talent

54% said that their work/life balance strategies have contributed to a reduction in staff turnover.

When searching for jobs online, most job seekers prefer niche job boards over general job boards because these sites offer more targeted job search results and a greater variety of relevant job opportunities.

If you are an employer looking to hire staff and reap the benefits of a flexible workforce, head to our jobs board.