The changing dynamics of families and work
Forget the 9 to 5, generations of employees now want nothing more than workplace flexibility – and bending to their will could be a win for everyone.
It’s been described as the new normal and hailed as the key to attracting and retaining employees of all ages – while keeping them engaged. Flexible working is not a new concept, but it’s never been more in demand by employees. Previously the domain of start-ups and tech companies, flexible work policies are now standard in organisations of all sizes and types.
In the past five years particularly, it has soared.
Almost three quarters of employers (70.7%) have a policy or strategy for flexible working today, compared with just over half (57.5%) in 2013-14, according to figures from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), the Australian government agency responsible for improving gender equality in the workplace¹.
According to a 2019 Global Talent Trends study² – which surveyed 800 business executives, 1,800 HR leaders and 5,000-plus employees across 44 countries – it found that the top three factors employees look for in a company now are permanent work flexibility, a commitment to health and wellbeing, and working with a purpose.
While working mums were part of the driving force behind the move to flexibility, families are now just one part of the flex-working story. Millennials and even Generation Z, those born after 1995, also now expect flexibility to be part of their working lives. In fact, a Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey³ in May found that flexibility is important to four out of five Australian workers under the age of 40.
The benefits of flexible working flow both ways, according to a number of global studies. For the employer, flex can result in higher organisational productivity, higher levels of employee engagement, reputational enhancement and a competitive edge in the war for talent.
For staff, flexible working has been shown to reduce stress, improve health and wellbeing, and increase job satisfaction.
Not a one-size-fits-all approach
Flexible working might be in demand, but what does it look like in practice? According to WGEA, it’s “an arrangement which gives employees the ability to have some control over when, where and how work is accomplished”.
How that is enforced is up to the individual and their organisation, and can take the form of flexible work hours (varying traditional start and finish times), compressed working weeks or a nine-day fortnight, working from home (or another location), job sharing, access to leave without pay or unplanned leave, or the opportunity to increase or decrease workload or career pace to suit different life stages.
At New Zealand financial services company Perpetual Guardian, the entire 240-strong workforce switched to a four-day week in November last year. A study4 on the outcomes, released after an eight-week trial, found that productivity increased and employees achieved the same amount of work as they previously did in five days. In addition, employees reported reduced stress levels and improved work-life balance. The four-day week is now a permanent option for full-time Perpetual employees.
If your organisation is exploring its flex options, here are three ways to consciously promote the practice:
1. Include management in the discussion
- Flexible working requires a top-down approach to work in practice. Discuss with senior leadership these emerging shifts and what your organisation is willing to consider.
- Leaders need to be able to articulate why flexible working is beneficial for the business as well as its employees, and provide a clear, well-communicated policy.
- They also need to lead by example – paying lip service to flexibility won’t mean much if senior leaders are the first in the office and last to leave each day.
2. Recognise that today’s packages need to look beyond salary and super
- For younger generations of employees in particular, flexibility to work the way they want will be increasingly important.
- In fact, a number of studies have found that Millennials nominate benefits and flexibility as more important than salary in choosing an employer.
- Make sure salary packages at your organisation reflect the preferences of current and future employees.
3. Tailor, trust, tweak
- Different things are important to different people, and these can change at different life stages or even from year to year. Recognise that every individual you speak to will have their own unique request for flexibility.
- Flexibility requires a level of trust. For many workers, simply being treated like a ‘grown-up’ who is trusted to be responsible and get their work done through the week is one of the greatest benefits an organisation can offer.
- Nothing remains the same for long. To remain competitive, organisations must consider how to best stay on top of which benefits are most attractive to which people, and be prepared to re-evaluate their policies and packages at regular intervals.
1. Australian Government Workplace Gender Equality Agency – Progress Report 2017-18
2. Mercer Global Talent Trends 2019 – Connectivity in the Human Age
3. Australian Government Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey 2019
4. The Guardian Feb 2019 – Four-day week: trial finds lower stress and increased productivity