Flexible working myths
There are many misconceptions about flexible working. Here we correct some misinformation about flexibility at work.
Table of contents
Work and lifestyle measures can assist all people, not just those with dependent children. This can include people who are responsible for the care of elderly parents, people who have study or cultural commitments, older employees who simply want to ease themselves into retirement or people with other personal and lifestyle commitments. Family life is a continuum and, with the ageing of our community, care of the elderly will have a significant impact on people’s lives.
A high degree of trust and cooperation between all employees will lead to improved morale, commitment and increased productivity. Employers of choice are finding an open and cooperative approach can give them a competitive edge. The key here is about cultivating a positive and healthy workplace culture of high performance, strong communication and commitment to outcomes. Unethical misuse of flexibility is a performance issue and is a separate matter for managers.
Some employers believe workers perform effectively only under direct supervision, and time spent at work shows the level of the worker’s commitment. These command and control attitudes create obstacles to developing more flexible work options and lead to false assumptions about the commitment of people who for a range of reasons access flexible work options.
Supervisors and co-workers who equate the number of hours spent in the workplace with productivity might penalise efficient workers who complete tasks in a shorter time. Performance should be assessed on the outputs, outcomes, nature and quality of the work, not just time served.
Some employees may feel unfair concessions are being made which do not affect them, but which they may have to ‘cover for’. However, employees’ family and lifestyle commitments will vary in form and degree over time and the productivity of the work unit is maximised when everyone has equitable opportunity. Increased flexibility does not lead to diminished performance, but offers a different way of achieving the same or enhanced outcomes for the job. Managers must ensure all employees have access to balanced work and lifestyle practices, particularly as individual situations change, and that use of those practices do not disadvantage any individual in the work area.
Managers may feel more pressure to compromise their own lifestyles because of the way their work is organised. Balanced work and lifestyle practices should be available to all and accessible by all. High performing organisations support and encourage managers to access these same opportunities. Similarly, it is important managers’ role model a healthy work-life blend.
Both men and women have personal commitments. It is unreasonable and unrealistic to assume 1 partner will automatically assume the major responsibility for family care, or only women have responsibility for a carer’s role or other lifestyle commitments. A University of South Australia study showed of men who say they want to work fewer hours, only 1 in 4 ask for it, and only 1 in 5 women will ask.
A worker's outcomes cannot be measured by the length of time he or she spends at work, although clearly for some positions presence in the workplace may be an important consideration, for example in a customer service role. A more accurate picture of outcomes can be gained from looking at the extent to which project deadlines are met, quality of work produced, results of service delivery, and so on. Not only is this a more valid way of measuring productivity, it also takes into account the myriad of working styles and arrangements that could be used to achieve work outcomes.
Although these are all examples of flexible work possibilities, the concept covers the broad arrangements that relate to how, where and when we work such as leave at half pay, hot desks, compressed hours and deferred salary schemes.
Business imperatives will always be a key consideration, though chances are when the focus is on the outcomes required, other ways of meeting the business needs can be discovered. It is unlikely everyone will want the same type of flexibility at the same time. Teams sometimes establish particular ways of working that meets their needs, such as everyone is available every Wednesday for team meetings, or calendars are shared among the team.
Workplace and societal expectations and norms are changing and certainly different from 10 years ago. Managing virtual teams and embracing flexibility is a key feature of a modern workforce. Flexibility is the new norm and should be a mainstream approach rather than a bonus for a select few.
Workers compensation arrangements apply to injuries arising out of or in the course of employment, regardless of their work location. Although slip, trip and fall injuries are just as likely to occur at home as in the workplace, telecommuting reduces the risks associated with journeys to and from the workplace.
Workplace health and safety (WH&S) responsibilities apply when working flexibly and in the workplace. A WH&S assessment may apply depending on the circumstances (e.g. how often, how long and the type of work). An inspection may be suitable for a high frequency working from home (e.g. 4 days per week) however, a self-assessment may better suit a medium frequency arrangement (e.g. 1 day per week).