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Workplace Flexibility Posts

Flexibility without strings attached

There is an old saying that can often be heard on the side lines of rugby fields across New Zealand . . . “Make the ball available”. The saying implies that if the ball is free to be used by the team members the game will flow and be more exciting and enjoyable for both the players and spectators. This old saying may also hold true for the utilisation of organisational flexible work practices. Recent research has indicated that employees must feel free to use organisational flexible work policies that are formally available to them.

Feeling free to use flexible work policies
Formal flexible work practices alone may not be enough to create job flexibility, and thus, enhance the integration of work and personal life for employees. For instance, flexible work policies designed to influence employee flexibility may not be applied consistently and in some cases employees may fear that the use of a particular policy will generate reprisals (e.g., their future chances of promotion or career advancement). Consequently, employees must feel free to use the organisation’s flexible work policies without negative consequences to have a positive impact on their ability to balance work and personal life.

New research
Results from a survey of over 700 office based employees in an Australian work setting indicate that perceived usability (feeling free to use) of flexibility work practices is a key aspect in balancing their work and non-work responsibilities. In a series of follow up focus group interviews employees provided some salient statements as to what perceived usability of flexibility policies meant to them.

What employees said
Focus group attendees felt “a culture that encourages the use of flexible work schedules is important”. If employees felt the organisation actively promoted the use of work/life policies they were more likely to participate in the programs. “My boss makes every effort to meet my flexible hour requests and this helps, it’s just part of the job and most people use them”.

Employees provided direct comments how negative career consequences can result from utilising flexible hour schedules, and this can impact their usage of specific policies, ultimately limiting the ability to balance their work and non work life. “What’s the use of the policies they have around here if using them is going to impact my future promotion”.

“It’s all about access for me; I need to know that when I want to use office facilities or company resources they are available”. This type of comment was common from telecommuting employees working from home. Employees stressed that access to company resources when operating on flexible hours could impact their productivity and consequently they may not opt to utilise these options.

What does it mean for organisations?
Formal organisational flexible work policies matter to employees, but they must not come with strings attached. Managers must attempt to create a culture where the utilisation of flexible work schedules is encouraged. This will take time and training of supervisory staff will play a big part in building a constructive work/life culture.

Access to resources, especially for telecommuting staff, helps their satisfaction at work and at home. Removing obstacles so staff can easily assess key resources and office facilities when required is also important.

What does it mean for employees?
If balancing your work, personal and family life is important to you, find an organisation that understands this. Not easy? Well, at least try and find a supervisor who understands your needs and that trusts you to do your job – whether you are in the office for 50 hours a week or not! Employees will play their part by contributing to organisational performance and hopefully gaining a better balance between their work and non-work life.

Dr Jeremy Hayman, Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand).

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Realigning 20th-Century jobs for a 21st-Century workforce

Although today’s family has changed, the workplace has not—and the resulting one-size-fits-all workplace has become profoundly mismatched to the needs of an increasingly diverse and varied workforce. As changes in the composition of the workforce exert new demands on employers, considerable attention is being paid to how workplaces can be structured more flexibly to achieve the goals of employers and employees. Workplace Flexibility brings together sixteen essays authored by leading experts in economics, demography, political science, law, sociology, anthropology, and management. Collectively, they make the case for workplace flexibility, as well as examine existing business practices and public policy regarding flexibility in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Japan.

Workplace Flexibility underscores the need to realign the structure of work in time and place with the needs of the changing workforce. Considering the positive and negative consequences for employer and employee alike, the authors argue that, although there is not an easy solution to creating and implementing flexibility practices—in the United States or abroad—redesigning the workplace is essential if today’s workers are effectively to meet the demands of life and work and if employers are successfully able to attract and retain top talent and improve performance.

Contributors: Margaret Beck, University of Iowa; Suzanne M. Bianchi, UCLA; James T. Bond, Families and Work Institute; Juliet Bourke, Partner, Human Capital, Deloitte; Belinda Campos, University of California, Irvine; Kathleen Christensen, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; Laura den Dulk, Erasmus University Rotterdam; Robert Drago, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Melbourne; Sheila Eby, Eby Communications; Ellen Galinsky, Families and Work Institute; Janet C. Gornick, Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY); Steven J. Haider, Michigan State University; Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Center for Work-Life Policy; Qinlei Huang, University of Minnesota; Robert Hutchens, Cornell University; Sumiko Iwao, Keio University; Suzan Lewis, Middlesex University Business School; David S. Loughran, RAND Corporation and Pardee RAND Graduate School; Phyllis Moen, University of Minnesota; Patrick Nolen, University of Essex; Elinor Ochs, UCLA; Shira Offer, Bar-Ilan University; Machiko Osawa, Japan Women’s University; Kelly Sakai, Families and Work Institute; Barbara Schneider, Michigan State University; Merav Shohet, UCLA; Blake Sisk, Vanderbilt University; Matthew Weinshenker, Fordham University; Vanessa R. Wight, National Center for Children in Poverty; Tyler Wigton, Families and Work Institute; Joan C. Williams, University of California, Hastings College of the Law; Mark Wooden, University of Melbourne

For more information about this book: ‘Workplace flexibility: Realigning 20th-Century jobs for a 21st-Century workforce‘.

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New Right to Request flexibility in Australia: What does it mean for employers?

The (Australian) Federal Parliament recently approved the introduction of National Employment Standards which include a right for (some) employees to request a flexible work arrangement. Between now and 1 January 2010 (when the “Right to Request” commences) employers have a window of opportunity to get on top of this significant change to the way in which flexible work practices will be negotiated at the workplace. Based on similar legislation overseas (e.g. the United Kingdom) we predict an increase in requests for flexibility, not only by those directly covered by the Standard. This note discusses the terms of the Standard and how employers might ensure compliance. In essence compliance will be about employers demonstrating greater transparency, consistency and thoughtfulness in decision-making about flexible work practices.

1.1 Provision
Section 65 of the FW Act provides that an eligible employee has a Right to Request of their employer access to a flexible work arrangement. Whilst such arrangements are not defined formally in the FW Act, examples are included in the “note” to the section, namely changes in work hours, patterns of work and location.

1.2 Who is eligible?
The National Employment Standards are minimum terms and conditions that apply to all national system employees (e.g. an employee employed by a corporation or by the Federal Government).

Under section 65(1) employees who are parents of (or care for) children under-school age, or a child under 18 who has a disability, may request a “change in working arrangements”.

The provision applies to both permanent and casual employees. In particular an employee must have completed 12 months continuous service before making this request, or if the employee is employed on a “casual” basis, the employee must be a long term casual and have an expectation of continued employment.

1.3 What does the provision require?
The request: The employee must make a request in writing demonstrating: (i) the reason for the change (i.e. how the requested change will assist the employee to care for their child); and (ii) the nature of the change.

The response: The employer must respond in writing within 21 days of the request. The response must identify whether the request is granted or refused, and if refused the response must detail the reasons why. These reasons must demonstrate that the refusal was made on “reasonable business grounds”.

1.4 What are reasonable business grounds?
The Standard does not define “reasonable business grounds”, nevertheless a body of Australian case law on family/carers’ responsibilities discrimination suggests that relevant issues will include (i) the nature of the role; (ii) the impact of the request on business/team operations; and (iii) associated costs as well as the benefit to the individual and the business (e.g. turnover and productivity).

1.5 Enforcement
The FW Act provides that all national system employers must comply with the National Employment Standards, including the provision that an employer provide reasons for accepting or refusing to grant a request for flexibility. The maximum penalty for non-compliance is AUS$6,600. There is no capacity however for a review of the reasons provided by an employer to ensure that they meet the “reasonable business grounds” test (this is specifically excluded by section 44(2)). The Standard is thus designed to provide a platform for a conversation between an employee and employer, and a mechanism for transparent and consistent decision-making. Having said this, no doubt an aggrieved employee will seek to use an employer’s written response as the basis for a family/carers’ responsibilities discrimination complaint under State or Federal legislation.

1.6 What should employers do to ensure compliance?
Given the likelihood that employers will be held to account for their decisions in relation to an employee’s request for flexibility, it would be prudent for employers to educate their managers about the factors to be taken into account when determining such a request. A checklist of factors would include:

  1. Whether a work/family policy exists within the organisation
  2. Whether a similar request has been granted elsewhere in the business
  3. The nature of the role and key performance indicators
  4. Options for change (e.g. including modifications to the request)
  5. The impact of the change on the team/business unit
  6. The cost of the change vs. the cost of not making the requested change (e.g. turnover).

In the spirit of evidence-based decision-making, consideration of whether there are “reasonable business grounds” to accept/reject a request might also prompt an employer to introduce the requested change on a trial basis, i.e. to determine the practicality of the requested change. Finally, in order to ensure that the employer’s assessment is perceived as reasonable a prudent employer would engage in a consultation process with the employee which demonstrates an open-mind towards the employee’s needs and encourages mutuality. Clearly just saying “No” to a request because it has never been done before will not be sufficient to meet the spirit of the legislation.

Juliet Bourke (BA, LLB, LLM(Hons), Partner, Human Capital, Deloitte.

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Historic White House forum on flexibility

The White House forum on workplace flexibility – The Obama Administration highlights the need for increased access to flexibility in the American workplace

Last week, the day-to-day challenges that go along with balancing work and family went from being the subject of so many kitchen table conversations to being front and center in the national spotlight.

Significance

1

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility. The Forum sent a clear signal that expanding access to workplace flexibility is now a national policy priority, rather than an individual struggle that each employee and family must face alone. It highlighted the fact that workplace flexibility is essential to both supporting working families and strengthening our nation’s economy. For us at Workplace Flexibility 2010, this was a turning point in the field of work and family in the United States.

A new conversation

2

The Forum brought together key leaders from business, labor, family and employee organizations, and academia to explore workplace flexibility strategies that are innovating workplaces in a range of industries and regions across the country. Participants heard about some of the best practices from around the nation, and worked to define new strategies for expanding access to flexibility for all employees, regardless of income level or profession.

During the Forum, Administration officials – including the President and the First Lady -highlighted the significant difference flexibility can make in the lives of working families. At the same time, the Administration put equal emphasis on the significant and positive impact flexibility can have in increasing business’ competitive advantage. In fact, the event coincided with the release of a new report by the Council of Economic Advisers – “Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility” – underscoring the economic benefits of flexibility and the need to explore those benefits further.

It’s personal: The Obamas’ views

3

In the Forum’s opening session, First Lady Michelle Obama shared that, “Flexible policies actually make employees more – not less – productive. Instead of spending time worrying about what’s happening at home, employees have the support and the peace of mind they need to concentrate at work which is good for their families – and the bottom line”.

President Obama stressed that flexibility is, “an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses. It affects the strength of our economy – whether we’ll create the workplaces and jobs of the future that we need to compete in today’s global economy”.

Next steps

4

The White House is now developing plans to hold similar conversations on workplace flexibility in local communities around the United States. We at Workplace Flexibility 2010 are committed to supporting their efforts in order to keep the drumbeat around flexibility going – until it becomes the “new normal” in all our workplaces.

As a country we took a big leap forward last week in creating that “new normal.” As John Berry – Director of Personnel Management for the federal government – said, “Flexibility is the new email. There are those employers that have it, and there are those that will.” We are thrilled that flexibility is now being recognized for what it is – a key strategy for modernizing the American workplace, and for supporting the workers and families that make up today’s workforce.

Katie Corrigan & Jessica Glenn, Workplace Flexibility 2010, Georgetown Law, Washington, DC.

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