Requesting flexible working is a legal right for many people, which means all employers have prescribed procedures to follow when considering these arrangements. But by going beyond the bare minimum and having an impressive flexible working policy as part of your employer brand, you can attract, retain, and benefit from a diverse range of talented candidates — just ask our Flex Able Certified employers!
To help you and your company also reap the rewards of a flexible working policy, we’ve collated a clear list of the best and next practices that leading employers now have in place.
What is flexible working?
Best practice flexible working policies
Next practice flexible working policies
What is flexible working?
At its best, flexible working allows employees to work within hours, patterns, or locations that suit their needs. The result of flexible working is a healthy work-life balance, which means employees bring their best selves to work — wherever that may be.
Common types of flexible working arrangements:
- Remote working: performing a role at home or somewhere else offsite, such as a cafe or co-working space.
- Job sharing: when two or more employees share the hours of one full-time position.
- Flexitime: this can be simply setting their own start and finish times or having complete autonomy over how and when they complete their weekly workload.
- Part-time work: the most popular form of flexible working, these employees perform and are paid for fewer hours than those in full-time roles.
- Term-time work: allows employees to take paid or unpaid leave during the school holidays (in addition to their normal holiday allowance).
- Compressed working hours: reallocating the working week into fewer but longer blocks of time, such as working longer hours Monday to Thursday in order to gain Friday off.
These can be offered both formally (as part of their regular working week) and informally (as an option to be taken when needed). For example, while a working parent may choose to be formally flexible so they can work around their children’s schooling, other employees may use flexitime informally for the occasional personal commitment, like doctor’s appointments or sporting pursuits.
It’s not efficient or effective to have great women join you and then throw away all that investment in their passion for your company, the training and development, the history they have with the organisation, just because you can’t be smart enough to find the way to have flexible working.
Diane Smith-Gander AO on episode five, series two of the Equality Talks podcast
Best practice flexible working policies
1. Offer a range of flexible options
Flexible working is all about creating a workplace and pattern that helps the employee be the best they can be. And as each employee is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to flexible working. For this reason, it’s recommended that workplaces offer a range of flexible options.
At a minimum, best practice is to offer several of these options. However, to get the most out of flexible working, we recommend being open to almost any arrangement — as long as it works for the employee, their team, and your organisation.
2. Assume a role is flexible until proven otherwise
Traditionally, employers have tended to ask ‘why’ make a role flexible. But with benefits such as increased productivity, innovation and retention rates, it’s clear that employers should actually be asking ‘why not’.
Almost all roles can be adapted — and benefit from — some form of flexibility, and at all levels. In fact, one of the most effective flexible options for retaining experienced employees is job sharing. This is increasingly popular amongst trailblazing Endorsed Employers such as Nab, who supported two employees to share the senior position of Head of Finance for Business Partner. While one employee had been with the company for eight years, the other had been there for 16 — that’s a total of 24 years experience that Nab managed to retain through their ‘why not’ approach to flexibility.
3. Put more than just a flexible working policy in place
An effective flexible workplace doesn’t just happen; organisations with successful flexible working have a formal policy or guidelines, and a clear strategy in place. This not only provides a focus for the business and the opportunity to measure the policy’s impact, it also gives candidates and employees the confidence to request and access flexible working.
Flexible working has an unwarranted stigma attached that can cause many to worry about being seen as uncommitted or unambitious. For this reason, it’s not enough to just have guidelines or a policy in place; a positive attitude towards flexibility must be ingrained in the company culture. This can be done through regular reminders of flexible arrangements, workshops or training sessions, and by encouraging employees to promote the benefits they’ve experienced. A great example of this is our Endorsed Employer HSBC who regularly incentivises its employees with prizes for sharing videos that demonstrate how they use flexible working.
Top tip: A great way to make your commitment to flexible working clear is by advertising your roles on the WORK180 platform, where you can show all the arrangements you offer.
4. Showcase leadership support
Buy-in from the CEO and senior leadership is essential. This means they must truly understand the benefits of flexible working so they can wholeheartedly promote and support the use of what’s on offer. Without this buy-in, the stigma attached to flexible working is more likely to remain.
This is something our Endorsed Employer Aurecon took into account when introducing their flexible working policy, Yes Flex. They were therefore careful to include line managers like the Regional Director, Evelyn Storey, into the pilot scheme. The result of this role model approach was a positive uptake in the policies on offer and an increased level of employee trust in Aurecon.
To ensure unequivocal support of the policy, I sat down with other line managers and agreed together that every time an employee asked about taking advantage of Yes Flex, we would say yes and then figure out how to accommodate it. To date, there hasn’t been a single instance where we were not able to do so.
Evelyn Storey, Regional Director of Queensland Aurecon
5. Regular training and support
Set your employees up for success by providing them with clear guidance at every step. For many Endorsed Employers, this starts by creating an actual guide for employees on the formal or informal steps they need to take to request flexible working arrangements. Great examples also include helpful tips, such as preparing answers to the primary question managers will want to know: how will flexible working benefit you, your team, and the organisation as a whole?
As well as providing remote employees with the physical tools to thrive wherever they work, it’s important to run training sessions that equip everyone with the knowledge they need to get the most out of flexible working. We also recommend facilitating workshops in which teams can address any issues they may be facing. These sessions should be provided alongside regular opportunities to talk to their manager, who has also been adequately prepared to support flexible employees.
6. Tackling unconscious bias
76% of surveyed men reported needing flexibility at some point in their careers, but only 27% asked for it. This is unsurprising given that a study by Bain & Company showed that men were twice as likely as women to have requests for flexible work hours denied.
Gender bias is just one of the many results of social stereotypes standing in the way of true flexibility for all. Despite their best intentions, other issues such as ageism and parental status can also unintentionally cloud the judgment of decision-makers. For this reason, companies that are truly committed to offering flexible working to all employees invest time and effort into tackling such bias. While this can include unconscious bias training (UBT), that alone is not enough; all messaging must be thoroughly reinforced with specific and systematic action against bias at all levels of the organisation.
Does your flexible working policy already follow these best practices?
Great work, your organisation could be eligible for WORK180’s Flex Able certification!
Promoted across our global platforms and available to display on your company collateral, the Flex Able badge is a clear indicator to talented job seekers that you offer a truly flexible working environment.
And for those employers who really want to stand out from the crowd and create a leading flexible working policy, here are some of the next practices we’re seeing trailblazing employers implement…
Next practice flexible working policies
1. Creating a carer-friendly workplace
According to the organisation Carers + Employers, one in nine Australians are carers for individuals who:
- have a disability
- suffer from a mental illness
- are drug and/or alcohol dependent
- have a chronic condition
- are aged and frail
It’s therefore likely that caring responsibilities will impact one of your employees at some time. Carers + Employer’s data also reveals that to facilitate and cope with their unpaid caring responsibilities, many of these individuals reduce their hours, relinquish career opportunities, and even leave the workforce altogether. This means businesses are losing valuable employees unnecessarily.
Leading employees are going beyond The National Employment Standards to support carers in the workplace, many of whom may not have felt comfortable to make their situation known. This involves creating a carer-friendly culture where people are actively encouraged by both managers and peers to make flexible arrangements that help their role in work and at home. Often, there is also an enhanced focus on the mental wellbeing of these employees.
Top tip: You can find expert guidance on how to create a carer-friendly workplace by emailing email@example.com or calling (02) 9280 4744.
2. Minimising the impact of the menopause
The menopausal transition is finally emerging as an important workplace issue. And as the number of employed women increases, leading employers are working to retain talented and experienced team members by confronting the challenges this transition can pose.
Alongside awareness efforts, sensitivity training, and culture change management, this includes implementing flexible working policies for those suffering from menopausal symptoms. Here are the key flexibility offerings suggested in the Menopause Information Pack for Organizations:
- Flexible start and finish time
- Flexible distribution of hours across working weeks
- Full-time to part-time options
- Remote working opportunities
- No extended periods without a planned non-working day (for shift workers)
The resource also suggests ways to normalise flexible working for those transitioning, such as adding photos of menopausal-age women to flexible working policy materials. To find out more about creating a menopausal-friendly workplace, download the MIPO’s handy checklist.
3. Aiding the gender affirmation journey
From hormone therapy and surgical procedures to the emotional challenges of changing the way the world sees you, the gender affirmation journey can be both physically and mentally arduous. As such, any support offered by employers can be the difference between talented team members staying or leaving the workforce.
Thankfully, in more recent years, trailblazing organisations are recognising the role they can play in supporting people on their gender affirmation journey — and flexible working plays a big part. For example, Endorsed Employer Liberty Financial has highlighted flexible working as part of their Gender Affirmation Policy and even provides an additional 10 days of paid special leave.
One last tip: Ask employees what they need
As flexibility is increasingly seen as a necessity as opposed to a perk, innovation is needed to stand out as a flexible employer. Fortunately, these innovative ideas can often be found just by asking employees what they need. Then, all organisations need to do is ask: why not?
Ready to show candidates what you have to offer?Organisations' benefits and policies were once kept hidden in a dusty HR draw. Today, top candidates expect to see what an employer has to offer before they even apply for a role. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why around 100,000 women a month use WORK180’s transparent job board to find their next role.
And WORK180 doesn’t just advertise great workplaces for women — we help create them too! To learn more about how we can help your DEI initiatives and raise your company’s profile as an employer of choice, visit our Why WORK180 page today.
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About the author
To help women find a workplace that will work for them, we prescreen employers on flexible working, pay equity, paid parental leave, and more. Find your next role on the WORK180 job board.