Flexible working is going to fundamentally change the way we do business as consumers and producers going forward, says Senator Michaelia Cash.
“When we talk about the future of work and innovation, the key words that we are all going to become familiar with are flexible working,” says Senator Michaelia Cash. During a speech she gave on industrial relations and the future of work at Sydney-based law firm Lander and Rogers last week, the word ‘flexibility’ fell from her lips probably more than any other.
This is particularly relevant for the next generation. “They don’t know what nine to five means, but they do understand 24/7 and they know a lot of work is not going to be in an office,” she says. “It’s going to be when and where I want to be, on that piece of technology that allows me to be constantly connected to my workplace.”
As Minister for Women and Minister for Employment, Cash was keen to prioritise increasing women’s workforce participation. “Women’s issues are economic issues,” she says. The G20 aim is to reduce the gap between men and women’s workforce participation by 25 per cent by 2025. Two current inhibitors to that are childcare that is accessible, affordable and flexible, and genuine flexible workplaces.
“Flexible workplaces need to be the norm for everyone,” says Cash. “I want to see more men putting up their hands and saying I want to work flexibly. If it becomes normalised for men, then it becomes easier for women to access flexible working and everyone benefits.”
Looking at the current industrial landscape, Cash was asked whether it was flexible enough for producers and consumers, to which she replied: “Frankly, no.” The Productivity Commission report has looked into why individual flexible working agreements have been under-utilised, she says.
Cash insisted that the government’s role was to create a prosperous climate for business by removing “the inflexibilities and disincentives – especially for women – to join the workforce, while at the same time ensuring that policies do not compromise the generous safety net that provides some form of welfare for those who cannot work.
“We are transitioning towards a more service-based economy. Producers and consumers are finding new ways to find each other outside of that traditional employment relationship,” she says.
A small example of Cash’s critique of the new economy and one geared very much to the demand for flexible working fell into my inbox recently. A new subscription-based online job board specifically targeted at skilled professionals seeking flexible working arrangements has been launched by a pair of professional women, Debbie Phillips and Christina Smerdon.
The job board requires companies to go through a stringent assessment process that examines when, where and how the company’s employees work to ensure flexible options are a reality before they can be certified as a flexible employer and use the new service. ANZ is the first major company to have been certified by as a flexible employer.
“The nine to five work week is a relic of the 20th century, and this logic holds little place in today’s connected world,” says Phillips, who points to research that shows an increasing number of professional men and women of all ages want to work flexibly but often find themselves sacrificing seniority, responsibilities or pay levels.
“This means everyone misses out because all those experiences and skills are going to waste,” says Phillips. “Research shows employers can save up to a third of an employee’s salary by offering flexible working and access top talent that would otherwise be out of their reach.”