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The nature of the workforce is changing – quietly but determinedly, employees are making their jobs work for them, and employers are sitting up and taking note. 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 in Australia and New Zealand is becoming widely accepted and a hot topic.  In business today, flexible working isn’t an option – it’s a necessity.  There are a numbers of employees wanting to work flexibly in order to achieve a work life balance. 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.

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. They are finding jobs which allow them to work flexibly in a way which allows them to arrange their own timetables, creating more time for family, career development and enjoyment, as well as increased job satisfaction.

Employers are catching on to the fact that they need to offer flexibility to their employees if they are going to hold on to a loyal and productive workforce.

The study, Employment & HR Trends, Engaging & Retaining Talent Within A Complex Employment Landscape, conducted Oct to Dec 2007 by leading integrated recruitment company Hudson, interviewed 7,185 employers across Australia and examined the challenges of engaging and retaining talent in a complex employment. The study found that:

  • Flexible work options are the most highly regarded and most commonly used engagement initiative, followed by financial incentives.
  • Successfully combat retention problems, organisations must take a holistic and flexible approach to their employee engagement and retention strategy.
  • By allowing employees to work from home and taking on flexible work practices – working outside the usual nine to five to allow employees to commute outside of peak hour traffic, for example – employers can guarantee that staff will be happier, more productive, and more likely to stick with them.

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.

The benchmarking study aimed to identify progress made in the implementation of work/life strategies within Australian organisations and compare the responses with those received in previous years, highlighting significant changes, with the results being shown by demographic groups. Feedback from previous users of the data indicates that it helped them to benchmark their initiatives and build the business case for change within their organisation.

For the employees themselves, the gift of time allows them to explore career or education options which can result in them forging ahead in their chosen professions. The extra time to devote to career advancement or increasing qualifications results in more driven, happier workers out there.

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.

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.

More than 80 per cent of Australian workers say mobile communications technology such as smart phones and laptops have boosted personal productivity and, for many, have transformed their work-life balance, according to the latest findings from an international workplace survey.

The survey, by global workforce solutions leader Kelly Services, finds that 75 per cent of respondents say the ability to work outside the office, yet remain in constant contact, has been a positive development, even though approximately a third are now working longer hours. The Kelly Global Workforce Index, a survey revealing opinions about work and the workplace from generational viewpoints most recent survey of 100,000 people in 34 countries including more than 13,000 in Australia key findings were:

  • 88 per cent say that they are ‘greatly attracted’ or ‘somewhat attracted’ by the possibility of telecommuting, working from home or working remotely.
  • 36 per cent say they are working longer hours due to new technologies, with Gen X the most affected.
  • Gen X are the most attracted to the idea of telecommuting, working from home and working remotely.
  • Gen Y are most happy with their work-life balance, and baby boomers the least.

Even though the productivity benefits from new technologies are greatest among younger workers, all generations say that their efficiency has increased. A total of 57 per cent say productivity is ‘much better’, and 25 per cent say it is ‘slightly better’, while four per cent say productivity is lower, and 15 per cent say it makes no difference.

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.

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.

For a good range of flexible jobs, go to www.lifestylecareers.com.au and www.returntoworkmums.com.au and see what is there for you.

References

Kelly Services (Australia) Ltd
www.kellyservices.com.au

Hudson
www.au.hudson.com/node.asp?kwd=the-hudson-report-hr-insights

Managing Work Life Balance International
http://www.worklifebalance.com.au/research.html

This article was first published and written by Leah Gibbs  for the Australian Career Practitioner Magazine – July 2010 http://www.cdaa.org.au/

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