Almost half of job seekers have declined an offer due to unsatisfactory flexible work options, new research suggests. Make sure your company doesn’t lose out on talent by developing a robust flexible work policy.
Is your flexible work approach up to scratch? New research commissioned by Officeworks found that nearly one in three Australian employees whose work could be performed at home say their employer does not have a flexible work policy. On top of this, 78 per cent say they wouldn’t work for a company without a formalised approach.
The report, which surveyed over 1000 Australians, also found that employees believe two or three days working from home each week was ideal.
“Given the tight economic outlook where [competitive] salaries might be off the cards, flexibility has moved from a nice-to-have to a must-have. It’s all about choice and control,” says Future of Work expert and AHRI Board member Dr Ben Hamer CPHR.
The argument for flexible work
Hybrid and flexible work arrangements have become embedded into Australian workplace culture, according to Alexandra Staley, General Manager – People, Officeworks.
“Embracing flexibility is becoming a fundamental requirement when trying to attract, secure and retain talent,” she says.
“Hybrid working also has many benefits to both team members and employers, not only from a lifestyle perspective, but also from a productivity, retention, collaboration, cultural and connection perspective.”
Nearly 60 per cent of employees who worked for companies with formalised flexible working policies felt positively towards their employer, with 56 per cent reporting boosted productivity, 61 per cent reporting increased morale and 49 per cent agreeing that it improved organisational culture.
“Given the tight economic outlook where [competitive] salaries might be off the cards, flexibility has moved from a nice-to-have to a must-have. It’s all about choice and control.” – Dr Ben Hamer CPHR, Future of Work expert and AHRI board member
“The role of the office has fundamentally changed,” says Staley. “It’s now increasingly focused on collaboration and connection. The [report] found that 58 per cent of respondents prefer working from home, as [they feel it is a] better environment for deep-focus activity,” says Staley.
In saying this, there are still plenty of bosses who want their people back in the office. Research from Robert Half shows that nearly 60 per cent of employers want people to increase their time in the office this year, citing enhanced corporate culture (70 per cent), skills development and career progression (68 per cent) and productivity (66 per cent) as their reasoning.
Hamer says HR professionals often get caught in the middle of the arguments for and against flexible work.
“On one hand, their executive team is pulling them in one direction with an expectation to get everyone back into the office. And on the other hand, employees are pulling them in the other direction asking for choice and flexibility.
“For HR professionals, it’s about trying to get to the root cause of why, because coming into the office is often a perceived solution for a problem that we’re not clear on,” he says.
The challenges of dispersed working
Despite the many benefits of embracing a culture of flexible working, it doesn’t come without its challenges, says Hamer.
“There are mental health and psychosocial challenges, such as feeling lonely and isolated, or increased levels of stress from less frequent communication.”
Staley adds, “Due to the rapid approach of the pandemic, understandably, many employers were thrust into the flexible working model without having properly developed an approach.”
Hamer believes these risks can be mitigated by having employers assess employees’ work-from-home setups to prevent WHS issues (45 per cent of respondents reported a health issue from working from home, such as neck pain) and training middle managers to manage and mitigate psychological hazards.
But, with 41 per cent of people in the Officeworks research reporting that working from home is better for their mental health, it’s worth taking the pulse of your employees to get a sense of what arrangements would best suit them.
“Employers need to consult their people. It doesn’t matter if it’s asking for five days or one day in the office. At the end of the day, it comes down to valuing your people and that means asking for their input into the decisions that affect them,” says Hamer.
Read about how Mirvac is protecting its employees from psychological hazards.
Hamer warns employers against assuming that, simply because the Great Resignation is over, they don’t need to prioritise employees’ needs in the same ways they did in 2021-2022.
“Organisations should not get complacent. [They have to] recognise that they still need to up their game when it comes to a compelling employee value proposition, and supporting flexible working goes a long way to that,” says Hamer.
Designing your own flexible work policy
If you’ve not yet got a flexible work policy in place, this infographic, originally published in February this year, has some helpful considerations to keep in mind.
Editor’s note: Regarding the point about not treating flexibility as a reward or basing it on performance, this will depend on the individual circumstances of the employment relationship and should be amended at your own discretion. All information in this article is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice.
Need help evolving your culture for a hybrid world? AHRI’s short course on managing a hybrid workforce is designed to equip you with the skills to create collaborative and future-ready teams.