12 February 2016


Making flexibility work

Michael Starkey, Graduate Associate

The drive to more flexible working arrangements is in the spotlight again, with big four professional services firm EY announcing recently that coming into work is optional for its employees. The arrangement is part of EY’s Workplace of the Future program and aims to place focus on outcomes rather than presenteeism. While the EY method might not be right for all organisations, here are our top tips on how to get flexible working arrangements right in yours. 

Know your obligations

Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (“FW Act”) certain employees (for example, parents of school aged or younger children, carers and employees with a disability) have the right to request a flexible working arrangement. An employer may only refuse such a request on reasonable business grounds, which might include the arrangement being too costly, or it being impractical to change the working arrangements of other employees to accommodate the arrangement.

Recognise the benefits

There is nothing preventing employers from offering flexible working arrangements to employees who fall outside the scope of employees entitled to request such an arrangement under the FW Act. Rather than being seen as an impost, organisations should consider the potential benefits of implementing flexible working arrangements on a wider level. Those benefits might include:

  • building organisational diversity by, for example, encouraging the workplace participation of carers with children;
  • encouraging employees nearing retirement age to continue working through more flexible practices; and
  • attracting top-talent by differentiating your organisation from others through non-monetary benefits.

Recognise your options

Flexible work comes in many forms, with options growing rapidly as technology advances. Employees might be allowed to work, for example:

  • part-time;
  • compressed hours (full-time over fewer days);
  • from home;
  • in job-sharing arrangements; or
  • reduced hours in certain weeks through the creative use of leave.

Organisations should think innovatively to come up with an option, or combination of options, that works best for them.

Set clear expectations

Employers should make clear (for example, through documented policies) that, in return for the benefit of flexible work arrangements, employees are expected to maximise discretionary effort and deliver on agreed outcomes. The success of flexible work arrangements should be tracked through regular check-ins. By framing flexible work arrangements as part of broader initiatives to build employee engagement, organisations can achieve buy-in and reap the rewards of associated cultural and productivity benefits.

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