A flexible future: Empowering a versatile work culture

Even before the pandemic, many companies were heavily invested in flexible workplace practices.

Generational change was a catalyst, along with the technology to underwrite remote working.

New generations of employees were entering the workforce and they were tech savvy, self-supporting and craved independence and an improved work-life balance. 

They were working from home offices or kitchen tables, demanding condensed work weeks and desired a schedule that better wrapped around their busy lives.

Companies soon realised flexibility could be a key component of their employee value proposition and started to promote their flexible working policies as a reason to jump on board.

On December 31, 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission in China reported an unusual cluster of pneumonia cases. The next three years changed flexible working forever.

Fair Work looks to flexible work

On June 6 the flexible work provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 took effect in Australia.

The legislative changes mean employers need to have considered, well-documented and timely assessments and responses to employee requests for flexibility. 

If an employer rejects a request for flexible working arrangements, they will need to be able to explain to their affected employee how they reached their decision.

If the decision is subsequently challenged, the employer will need to be able to provide evidence of this process to the Fair Work Commission.

The key changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 include:

  • Extending the right to request flexible work to include pregnant women, and employees or their immediate family or household members who are experiencing threatening or abusive behaviour from another party within the household- it is no longer limited only to “violence”.
  • Requiring employers to follow a detailed procedure when responding to requests for flexible work arrangements. This includes discussing the request with the employee, making a genuine effort to reach agreement and considering the outcome if the request is refused, and identifying specific reasonable business grounds to justify the refusal.

Empowerment and accountability

Global recruitment agency Randstad surveys workforces in more than 30 countries and publishes its findings under the Workmonitor banner.

Recent Workmonitor research in Australia showed that 56.6 per cent of Australian employees would not accept a job if they thought it would have a negative impact on their work-life balance.

It also found that 48.3 per cent of Australian employees would actually quit their job if they felt it was preventing them from enjoying the things they loved in life.

The latter was clearly in line with Workmonitor’s global number, which came in at 47.6 per cent.

As startling as that research may be, it also presents employers with an opportunity to drive retention and improve their hiring prospects.

Accepting and embracing the power of a flexible workplace culture is not without its challenges though and requires employers to embed employee accountability into their culture whilst simultaneously empowering their people to make their own decisions.

A shift in mindset from I need to see you for you to be working, to an outcome focus is required.

Employees decide for themselves where and how they work and are held accountable for their own outcomes. Empowerment and accountability are key ingredients in creating a high-performing culture.

The old adage is that when everyone is accountable, no one is accountable.

Appoint a single person to take charge of a task, process or project, and set clear expectations for the outcome.

Formalise and communicate this accountability to the team to drive ownership of the task.

Most importantly, follow up and hold people to both their word and the delivery of the outcome.

When team members fall short of agreed performance standards and accountabilities, address them promptly and provide coaching and development support when needed.

Empowerment in the workplace has been proven over and over to deliver better job performance, elevated employee satisfaction, and perhaps most importantly, a stronger sense of commitment to the company.

Flexibility is a two-way street

In our post-pandemic working lives, flexible work conditions remain high on most employee’s list of priorities.

We all know that a happy team is also a productive team, and productive teams lead to better client outcomes.

Happy teams also have a high retention rate and reduce recruitment and training needs and the costs associated with them.

The new workplace flexibility laws also mean that flexible working arrangements are a two-way street.

Negotiating the potential potholes that exist along the way means both employers and employees need to keep their eyes firmly on the road ahead and be prepared to give way to one another when necessary.

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Anne Crarey

Anne Crarey is the Executive General Manager - Property Services at Little Real Estate.