Flexible work is largely seen as a “good thing” – the greater inclusion of categories of workers such as parents and carers, the retention of talented staff, reduced commuting, better health, higher rates of job satisfaction and potentially higher productivity.

Companies such as IBM have put an emphasis on a smooth return from maternity leave, with an emphasis on flexible work and maintenance of career direction – this has led to a 96 per cent return rate, with a view that the retention of skills sets and intangible business benefits make it commercially worthwhile.

Flexible working arrangements for parents also have official backing, with legislative underpinning in the National Employment Standards and some State legislation. More broadly, however, the jury is out, however, on the impacts of flexibility on co-workers, and the broader knock-on effects.

 

Earlier this year a British survey of 25,000 people found women were the most likely to request flexible work practices. However, almost half of them believe those who work flexibly are resented by their colleagues.

A recent Cranfield University study looked at the degree to which people thought the quantity, quality and effectiveness of their work was impacted by their colleagues who worked flexibly.

Flexible working was seen as an appropriate method of working and culturally acceptable when it was available to all employees regardless of their personal circumstances. Greater cultural resistance was found in organisations where the actual take up of flexible working was dominated by certain types of employee, such as parents of young children.

Perhaps the solution is to not just embrace flexible work but expand it. Everyone could benefit, not just mums and dads whose flexibility is fuelling what’s now referred to as ‘parent resentment’. If everyone is offered flexibility rather than just a select few people, broader support is likely to be forthcoming.

In Jacob Morgan’s new book, The Future of Work, he writes that “the corporate office as we know it is dead – that is, having a single physical place of business where all employees have to come to work at a certain time and place”. He advises organisations to abandon the value they attach to the hours an employee works and the location at which those hours are accumulated. The only thing that should matter is their output.

 

For flexibility to succeed as a strategy, however, it must be based on business case and planned carefully, with expectations of each employee’s outputs crystal clear. Well-documented policies and procedures will help staff to understand how an organisation ‘works’. They also minimise business and legal risks. iHR Australia can design and develop individual policies, procedures and handbooks specific to your organisation’s needs.

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