Danielle Stone - HR Advisor
Flexible working arrangements have become the new normal in workplaces in recent years. Until recently, it was mostly working parents that requested greater flexibility in the workplace but over time it has become far more common for a diverse range of employees to request a transition to flexible working arrangements for a variety of reasons.
So as a business leader, should you consider these requests?
Yes! In a perfect world, all businesses would be able to offer their employees such flexibility as there are significant benefits to you as an employer, as well as to your employees, but in reality, there are many things to consider.
So what exactly are flexible working arrangements?
Flexible working arrangements doesn’t just mean changes to start and end times. If it suits your business, you can offer your team flexibility in a range of ways including the following:
• Part time working hours
• Graduated return to work after parental leave
• Working from home for part or all of the work period
• Job Sharing
• Altering start and finish times or customising working hours
• Opening satellite offices closer to an employees’ home
• Condensed work weeks - working longer hours to enable a shorter working week/fortnight
• Purchased leave - employees take additional leave per year by adjusting their salary to accommodate the extra leave
Who can request flexible working arrangements?
Any employee can make a request for flexible working arrangements and the employer should always consider such requests, however there are some employees who have a legal right to ask for flexible working arrangements.
Employees who have worked with the same employer for at least 12 months can request flexible working arrangements if they;
• Are a parent or primary carer of a child who is school aged or younger
• Are 55 years or older
• Have a disability
• Are experiencing family or domestic violence or are required to care or support a member of their immediate household or immediate family because of family or domestic violence
If an employee wishes to formalise their request for flexible working arrangements they should put their request to you in writing. Some employers ask that their employee make a case for how the arrangement might work effectively as well. Employers have a legal obligation to consider any request and respond in writing within 21 days. It is really important to note that if a request is refused, clearly defined reasons must be provided in the response.
You must also be aware that employers can only refuse a request for flexible working arrangements if they can clearly demonstrate that it doesn’t suit the needs of the business.
What could be considered reasonable grounds for refusal?
You’ve received a request from an employee for flexible working arrangements – what must you look at to ensure you are approving or denying the application fairly for the employee as well as your business?
If the request would require changes to the existing working arrangements of other employees, the changes would prove too costly for the business or the changes would result in a significant loss of efficiency, customer service or productivity, you have the right to refuse.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t ever apply a blanket rule to flexible working requests. Sometimes the role a person performs is what allows you to accommodate their request, whereas other roles do not. For example, a graphic designer who has no client facing responsibilities might reasonably be able to perform their required work to a high standard working from 7am to 2.30pm but a receptionist cannot, as the receptionist is required by the nature of the role to work the core hours of the business. It’s important that you consider each request on an individual basis, considering all aspects of the request including the role itself.
Communication is key
If the flexible arrangements an employee is seeking do not suit the needs of the business, we encourage an open and honest conversation to try and come to an arrangement that balances both the needs of the employer and the employee. Employers need to be mindful that their refusal must be based purely on the needs of the business otherwise they may be unknowingly breaching equal opportunity, discrimination or Fairwork legislation.
What are the benefits of offering flexible working arrangements?
As mentioned, there are great reasons to consider flexible working arrangements. Key benefits you should consider are that employees can be more focused, productive and engaged in their work when they are able to balance the demands of work with other aspects of their lives. This can also lead to improved well-being as flexibility can improve morale as well as having a positive impact on physical and mental health.
Employers often find that they can attract and retain a wider variety of talent and may experience a reduction in overheads by using hot desks and communal technology. Important to note is that Millennials have listed workplace flexibility as one of their top three requirements to be satisfied and remain in their place of work, and this trend is growing. We recommend a proactive approach to providing flexibility and flexible work arrangements need to be considered as a key component of any employee recruitment, retention and engagement strategy for the future.
How do you manage flexible working arrangements and what should you consider?
You will need to consider the impact any significant changes may make to the business. How will the employee be managed? How will it impact the current culture? What are the legal obligations and possible ramifications - thin k Occupational Health and Safety? What changes need to be made to the way we communicate within the business?
Prior to committing to a permanent flexible working arrangement, we recommend that you commence with a trial period with regular reviews. This will allow the necessary adjustments to be made if issues arise.
Any changes to existing employment conditions should be documented. You may provide a letter outlining the changes in working arrangements, or if the change is permanent and significant, a new employment contract may be in order.
Want to know more about the benefits or discuss any concerns you may have relating to implementing flexible arrangements? We are here to help!