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Flexible working conditions, are employers coming to the party?

Woman in her slippers in front of the computer

The increasing desire among many employees to achieve a balance between work, home and other interests has led to a corresponding increase in expectations for more flexible work conditions. But are the employers coming to the party?

We are seeing a small but steady increase in requests for more flexible working hours and conditions, including working from home, part-time options, job sharing and remote working. While many such requests come from working parents who want to spend more time with their children, more work flexibility is also a growing priority among other groups.

More people are caring for elderly family members and need the flexibility to allow for this.  It’s also now more ‘acceptable’ for employees to request temporary flexibility during periods of personal challenge or chronic illness. Increasingly, however, requests to vary the hours or days of work are all about lifestyle.

During the GFC, many businesses managed by reducing employees’ working hours to achieve the dual goals of keeping them employed and reducing costs. However, as economic growth returns and companies are in a position to move workers back to pre-GFC arrangements, some employees have realised that they value the freedom and flexibility of a four-day week or a nine-day fortnight more than the extra 10–to-20 percent of salary.

The business lag

There is, however, definitely a disconnect between this rise in demand and the business response. Whether this is due to business culture generally, or Australian business culture in particular, is debatable. However, the fact that Australians work some of the longest hours in the world may influence our tolerance levels for those who opt to work less.

A request to work flexibly can be perceived as a lack of dedication or career ambition. This perception ignores the business benefits of having employees that are happy, engaged and focused on their work because their lives outside of work are taken care of.

There’s also a need to shift the perception that the only ‘good’ flexibility is the kind that helps companies manage costs, rather than as a highly effective means of retaining and attracting talent.

The pitfalls of ignoring demand

Recent drops in unemployment and increased commercial activity indicate that we are heading back to the pre-GFC predicament of a candidate-short market. And companies further limit their attractiveness by treating requests for flexible working conditions as an imposition. Yet this is the kind of deal-breaker that sees potential or current employees voting with their feet and seeking the flexibility they want somewhere else.

At Talent2’s NSW offices, around 25 percent of our recruitment consultants do not work five-day weeks, or five days in the office. We are keenly aware that, if we did not offer this flexibility, we would risk losing a group of highly experienced and valued people. And, in challenge to perceptions on dedication, two of my highest performing consultants are in this group.

Remote networking and smart phone technology provides the opportunity to revolutionise the way that people work and connect with their employer and businesses must be mindful of this.

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