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What you need to know about asking your boss for a flexible working arrangement

by Yvette Maurice

I had an argument with my friend yesterday – she’s a manager who looks after 40 staff and is struggling to accommodate everyone’s requests for flexible working arrangements. I, on the other hand, have enjoyed working for a company that actively encouraged its workers to work flexibly: within that organisation there were job sharing directors, people who worked from home, people who worked part time and casually, and people who worked in different states, at different times of the day.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Seventy percent of Cisco Systems employees regularly work from home at least 20% of the time. So do 34% of workers at Booz Allen Hamilton and 32% at S.C. Johnson & Sons.”

So are flexible working arrangements useful, or the first step towards a company losing its productivity? How do you ask for a flexible working arrangement and does it mean that you’ll work more… or less?

So…What are Flexible Working Arrangements?

Flexible working arrangements fall into three main categories: when you work, where you work, and how you work.

When: Looking at the first option, when you work can be the most easily changed factor of a working contract and may involve making an employee’s billable hours more flexible to factor in things such as caring, commuting or study responsibilities. When you work also covers the best contract arrangement for the person/role such as full time, part time, job sharing or casual.

This also covers variable year employment – staff who are employed seasonally or working more hours during busy periods and taking time off in quiet times. There were also reforms in recent years which freed up the way employees could use leave periods, for example, parental leave, family or carer’s leave, study leave, cultural leave and career breaks.

Where: probably the biggest change to the modern workplace has been the advances of technology allowing us to work remotely, or from home.

How: This covers things such as job sharing, ‘annualised hours’ where you work a set number of hours per year, rather than per week and also initiatives such as ‘phased retirement’ where someone might go from five to three days per week as they move towards retirement, often returning during a peak period.

Why are Flexible Working Arrangements Important?

There are actual benefits for employers and for employees, and on the whole for business. Rather than impacting employers, there can be significant benefits to loosening the reins on the ol’ 9 to 5.

Benefits for employees (from Fair Work Qld Govt site)

  • Now that most adult relationships take equal participation in the workplace, flexible working arrangements provide more time to do personal things such as attending to domestic or household responsibilities
  • Working flexible hours may help with commute time
  • Flexible hours may be beneficial to those who need to care for children or others

Benefits For Employers

  • Having flexible working arrangements may attract a more diverse range of workers, often in different age groups
  • Can provide the employer with the chance to extend hours of business if needed for busy periods; flexi arrangements work both ways
  • Provides a low cost benefit that is valued by employees
  • May provide a more efficient use of physical workplace amenities, through a spread of the hours when they’re used
  • More employees working from home may reduce the need for expensive office space

How to Ask Your Boss for a Flexible Working Arrangement

Don’t feel guilty! If you have children or caring responsibilities it’s now the law in Australia to be given access to flexible work (since 2010), but as you know, often laws take some time to catch up to workplace culture, which can lag behind.

You don’t actually have to provide a reason to your employer, but if you work with them, you’re likely to get a better outcome, and your reasons for flexi work will be better understood.

If you have children or caring responsibilities it’s now the law in Australia to be given access to flexible work

Have a look at the Ways to Work site for some great tips on talking to your employer. Here’s a short summary:

  • Try to give them as much notice as possible
  • Aim to be flexible yourself
  • Speak honestly
  • Be willing to explore other alternatives with them
  • Address any organisational challenges, and come prepared with solutions
  • Prepare a proposal, highlighting the advantages to them
  • Look for competitors or stakeholders in your (or related) industries that are already offering flexi arrangements as examples of best practice

What To do if You’re The Boss

  • Remember that all employees should have access to flexible working hours arrangements
  • Aim to be flexible. Workplaces with flexible working arrangements actively in place tend to have a better culture and often have better employee engagement
  • Communicate with your staff to measure appropriate levels of output
  • Appraise your staff via regular performance reviews
  • Adopt a clear policy on working hours and communicate these to all employees

There’s No Turning Back Now…

The latest Regus survey of 10,000 businesses worldwide found that not only does the average commuter spend nearly half an hour getting to work every day, but 17% spend over 45 minutes getting to their workplace and back,” according to Smart Company.

There can be some downsides to flexi arrangements which need to be managed, such as having people trickle in throughout the day interrupting workflow, but in general, the overriding opinion of the business community is positive and with further advances in technology, flexible working arrangements will become more and more common, so businesses should jump on the bandwagon now and start introducing policies that help and support not only their workers, but productivity levels.

11 Responses

  1. These are important considerations! I recently saw research that said many people who work from home actually work LONGER hours than “traditional” employees. That is something to keep in mind as well!

    • Yvette Maurice says:

      I agree Miriam – hopefully the culture around working from home will eventually change, so that employers and employees all see the benefits!

  2. Brent Jones says:

    Great article. My past two sales positions both involved me working from home – and I prefer it that way. (Of course, I would go out to meet with clients from time-to-time)

    It sounds like the dream job to most people, but it isn’t for everybody. I find myself more productive in my home office, but for some people, there are many distractions at home and it can be tough to stay motivated with your TV nearby. It works well with my personality as I tend to perform better when I feel have more flexibility.

    I would encourage employees considering having this conversation with their boss to try it out on a trial basis first before making it a permanent move.

    • Yvette Maurice says:

      Great point, Brent! You do have to be personally motivated to succeed, but that’s also true about distractions at the office. For many people, mixing it up is the key; having a couple of days every week at home can give them the best of both worlds.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Great article with good, practical insights. As an employee, you have to remember that not all jobs are conducive to working from home. Examples are some call centers (limited by the technology) and retail establishments – so think through your specific situation. If it does makes sense to work from home and you hit resistance – consider suggesting a “trial” to see if it will work for both of you. There is all kind of data that says its good for both employer and employee.

    • Yvette Maurice says:

      Thanks Dorothy – and you are correct – there are some jobs that just have to be done on site! Thanks very much for the comment.

  4. Faizan says:

    Nice article. I work in an organisation that has flexible working hours. Which is good. But different firms have different needs. Also, sometimes the skills of person itself are an obstacle to flexible working 9in a good way). For e.g. my senior and training leader, has flexible working hours, but he has core hours as well which he HAS to be in. So it’s partially flexible. And he is senior to me, so it can look like he does not get full benefit, but such are his skills that he is wanted 🙂

    I still think though, that flexible hours atleast in part should be the norm now, as Gen Y work hard and party harder, companies need to realise they have to optimise the working hours to get the best out of Gen Y! Just my thoughts.

  5. John Frank says:

    I think more and more companies are turning to flexible work arrangements instead of raising salaries or benefits these days. Working at home can help you balance family and work responsibilities, but it also can mean never leaving work in the sense that every spare minute turns back to work issues. So be disciplined about when you work, and about when you don’t.

  6. I feel like this is particularly important when transitioning into retirement. You mentioned phased retirement in your article and I think that this will become an increasingly popular thing in the coming years as senior citizens increase in number with the baby boomer generation.

    Organisations will simply not be able to give up the amount of workers required, and either the retirement age is going to have to be raised, or things like phased retirement is going to dramatically increase.

    I think bosses need to be aware of this and factor it into their thinking. With the NBN coming, phased retirement and flexible working conditions are going to be a lot more possible when people can work from home with full video conferencing capabilities.

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