Flexible workplaces

Flexibility at work is about arrangements for where, when, and how work is done to satisfy both employee and employer needs. It can include flexible hours of work, compressed work weeks, time in lieu, telecommuting, part-time work, job-sharing, or a combination of these arrangements.

Flexible work arrangements can be formal or informal, depending on individual circumstances and operational needs. Formal arrangements can benefit individuals and workplaces that need certainty and structure, whereas informal arrangements may be more suitable where employees and employers need to easily adapt to changing circumstances. Whether flexible work arrangements are formal or informal should be determined jointly by employees and employers.

Although there is often a perception that flexible work arrangements are just for people with children, anyone can request flexible work arrangements. Employees may request flexibility at work for a variety of reasons, including to:

  • pursue study;
  • transition to retirement;
  • engage in sports or other recreational activities;
  • care for children or ageing relatives;
  • focus on personal health and well-being; or
  • undertake volunteering or charity work.

Saying yes to flexible work arrangements doesn't have to be costly to your organisation. Flexibility can take the form of having your staff telecommute, working part-time hours, job sharing, working a compressed week, and varying start and finishing times. Many of these arrangements can be made with minimal costs to your organisation while providing ongoing financial benefits with more satisfied and engaged employees.

Workplaces that promote flexible work practices may find that they retain valuable staff, reduce hiring and training costs, reduce absenteeism, are more attractive to prospective employees, and have higher rates of job satisfaction.

Creating flexible workplaces

Good communication and trust are central to cultivating positive work relationships. This is no different when flexible work arrangements are part of the mix. Clear expectations of how and when work is to be completed should be conveyed between managers and their staff. Most research indicates that part-time and satisfied employees tend to be productive ones. However, if there are any concerns with work performance, these concerns should be managed just like any other performance issues in the workplace.

Flexibility requires a reciprocal arrangement between mangers and their staff. When planning flexible work arrangements, the potential impact on the business and other staff is an important consideration. Business needs, such as rostering, client service, and staffing levels should be taken into account when negotiating flexible work arrangements.

The Queensland Government has created a useful guide to flexible work in the public sector, which incorporates checklists to assess the request and implement the arrangements.

Employees who work flexibly need to ensure that their work performance is not compromised, and the oversight and management of flexible work arrangements is a vital part of ensuring success. The Australian Institute of Management has produced a valuable resource for managers who need guidance on how to effectively manage in a flexible work environment – Managing in a flexible environment.

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Flexible workplaces: employer obligations

If a reasonable request for flexible work arrangements is made because a worker has an attribute under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (such as impairment, parental responsibilities, family responsibilities, religious belief etc) it may be unlawful discrimination if the employer refuses the request. The worker could make a complaint us at the Commission.

Find out more about the Anti-Discrimination Act and the attributes included

Employees under the national workplace relations system (the Fair Work Act ) are entitled to request flexible work arrangements to assist with their circumstances, if they have worked with the same employer for at least 12 months, and if they:

  • have responsibility to care for child who is school aged for younger;
  • are a carer under the Carer Recognition Act 2010 (Cth);
  • have a disability and qualify for a disability support pension;
  • are aged 55 or older;
  • are experiencing domestic violence;
  • provide care and support to a member of their household or immediate family, needed because of family or domestic violence.

Employers can only refuse these requests on reasonable business grounds.

Find out more about entitlements under the Fair Work Act.

Queensland Government and local government employees are entitled to request flexible work arrangements for any reason under the Industrial Relations Bill 2016.

In addition, there are business benefits from adopting flexible work arrangements across your organisation. Each organisation is different, and will need to decide how to incorporate flexible work practices into their workplace.

However, an ‘If not, why not?’ approach to considering flexible work arrangements is the best starting point. When considering requests for flexible work arrangements, it is important to ensure that the requirements of the role and the organisation’s needs are considered, but also balanced with the needs of employees and assessed fairly and equitably across all roles.

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