Is flexible work the way to a “work smarter, not harder” world? It seems like many Australian organisations are heading in that direction, offering employees the option to change their office hours or work remotely.
Employees jump at the chance for flexible work arrangements for a variety of reasons: childcare, disability, better work-life balance or even to continue their education.
“The old way of work, of getting in at the crack of dawn and thinking you can’t be working unless you’re at the office, is alien now,” says Susie Babani, ANZ’s Chief Human Resources Officer, in an interview with The Huffington Post. “We need to be thinking about what we pay people to do. Does it matter if that’s at home or at Starbucks? At 8pm or 6am? Probably not.”
Although a major driving force behind this demand are millennials or Gen Yers, Gen X and baby boomers want options as well. “It’s not just for women with kids. It’s for men, older people, young people, and for all sorts of reasons,” Babani says.
Australians are starting to demand the option from employers – so much so, that some are willing to take a pay cut if it means they can work remotely or custom hours. According to a recent study by recruitment firm Hays, 55 per cent of Australians would take a 20 per cent salary cut in order to work from home. A further 22 per cent would shave 10 per cent off their annual income if it was exchanged for flexible working arrangements. Just 23 per cent of the more than 8500 people surveyed said they would take a longer commute in favour of more money.
Not all employees will take offered flexible work arrangements; some enjoy coming into the office at set hours every week. But even having the option can make a difference. There are companies that adopt an “all roles flex” policy, which assumes all employees are eligible for flexible work and the burden of proof is on the employer should a request be denied. Others have made efforts to inject flexible working rules and regulations into company policies to encourage active uptake and general awareness.
But who benefits the most? Obviously, not all types of roles or employees are suited to remote work. But research has shown that on average remote workers are more productive, reduce in-house costs for businesses, and take fewer breaks or sick days, making the benefits to business clear.
Flexibility is also a huge boost to gender parity and employee engagement. One joint study by Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women found that 57 per cent of women who work flexibly are confident they can become senior business leaders, and 53 per cent aspire to be senior leaders.
But while flexible work arrangements help get more women in the boardroom, men who decide to do the same thing are less likely to move their way up through a company. There is still stigma attached to men requesting or taking flexible work options. One Australian Human Rights Commission study found that men are twice as likely as women to have flexible work requests denied. Additionally, 27 per cent of men report experiencing discrimination related to parental leave. Respondents to the B&C and CEW study report being told by their boss that they wouldn’t be promoted working remotely or part-time. Of those who do, fewer expressed confidence that they would become a senior leader within the company than those who did not use flexible working arrangements.