11 Strategies for Mainstreaming Flexibility
11 Strategies for Mainstreaming Flexiibility

DCA research reveals the keys to flexibility

A new report by the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) recommends Australian businesses mainstream high quality flexible work and career opportunities to optimise resources and productivity.

The DCA’s research found that while many employees have access to basic flexible work arrangements, meaningful flexible work and careers are not common in Australian workplaces, despite the advantages which can be gained.

Findings from the report, titled Get Flexible: Mainstreaming Flexible Work in Australian Business, were derived from a series of think tanks involving Australian organisations who have made flexible work policies a business imperative.

Barriers to flexibility

The DCA’s chief executive officer Nareen Young, said the research exposed many of the barriers to flexibility, some of which include corporate culture and the way Australian businesses think and talk about flexibility.

“When we talk about ‘flexibility’ it’s not only about being flexible with how, when and where work is conducted. It’s also about types of flexibility and being able to have flexible careers that include ramping up or ramping down career investment at different life stages. Flexible work and career progression must not be mutually exclusive.”

“The language we use inadvertently fosters the view that flexible work is ‘special treatment’ for a select few, for example, mothers of infants and young children and those with significant personal health needs. Instead it should be available to everyone for a broad range of reasons – from fathers who want to be involved in the hands-on caring for their children, to those who have elderly parents who need care, or those who want to ease back on work as they prepare for retirement,” said Ms Young.

Another interesting finding showed that companies need to build flexible work and career opportunities into their business strategies rather than bolt them on as a set of policies that operate separately to the way the business runs.

According to Ms Young the first step companies need to take to achieve this is to engage senior leadership teams on the benefits of flexibility and how it can be achieved.

“More than anything else we need to foster a trusting and trustworthy relationship between managers and staff to enable flexibility to become a reality,” said Ms Young.

The DCA claims that companies wanting to mainstream their approach to flexible work need to adopt a new outlook including:

  • A culture of flexibility that attracts and retains talent
  • Career progression for employees who engage in flexible work patterns
  • Opportunities for people at all levels to engage in flexible work and examples of people doing so
  • All forms of flexible work are engaged in;
  • A dynamic approach to flexible work which adapts to the changing needs of individuals and the organisation
  • A proactive approach to flexible work that is evident in both business strategy and management behaviour
  • Evidence of flexible work in both formal and informal processes
  • Engagement in flexible work for reasons outside the usual ones (for example child/elder care)
  • A trust based approach to flexible work opportunities
  • A view that flexible work is a powerful tool for increasing business performance

The DCA research was sponsored by Stockland, Origin Energy and Allens Arthur Robinson, companies which are well known for their progressive approach to flexible work and career, and the end result was a document which outlines 11 strategies the DCA says would have a significant impact for businesses wanting to make flexible work the operating norm.

The DCA recommends that businesses wanting to get flexible should:

  1. Get designing: Integrate flexibility into job descriptions, job and work design, and teams; integrate flexibility into performance reviews and development plans; assess performance on outcomes, and recognise outcomes can be met in different ways; treat flexibility as a management deliverable and explore possibilities of technology and alternative work strategies.
  2. Get cultural: Ensure those who work flexibly are ‘accepted’; base relationships and expectations on trust; ensure flexible work is seen as ‘the way things are done around here’; challenge the stigma of working flexibly.
  3. Get leading: Senior leaders should genuinely commit to flexible work; leaders lead by example – they are effective role models for flexibility; leaders have an active approach to mainstreaming flexibility; leaders have the capabilities to manage a majority flexible workforce; all staff have the necessary skills to engage in flexible work.
  4. Get talking: Demonstrate the business benefits; redefine flexible work by bringing it to life with examples; illustrate success stories – provide the details to enable others to copy; show how flexible work arrangements work on a practical level.
  5. Get strategising: Identify flexible work as a business need; have a long term business commitment to flexible work; create a strategy for a majority flexible workforce – this is part of workforce planning; report progress and outcomes as part of standard business reporting.
  6. Get universal: Foster a genuine acceptance of flexible work by all; ensure flexible work is available to all, regardless of job type or level; educate clients/customers and the community about flexible work.
  7. Get resourced: Equip people with the tools they need (e.g. IT, team-based processes); provide appropriate resourcing for flexibility; review policy and systems that may impede flexibility implementation; explore new ways of meeting clients’ needs and consult clients and customers about this.
  8. Get ROI: Engage in risk (e.g. not being flexible) vs return (e.g. retaining a skilled workforce) discussions; make the connection between flexibility and increased individual, team and organisational performance; measure the impact of flexible work and show the financial returns.
  9. Get proactive: Look for opportunities to integrate flexibility into day-to-day business operations; focus on ‘why not flexibility’ rather than looking for reasons to ‘block’ flexibility.
  10. Get team-focused: Consider the impact of flexible work on the whole team; focus on support from within and across teams; welcome team-based feedback on the impact of flexibility; create flexibly autonomous teams.
  11. Get career-focused: Create flexible career opportunities; integrate flexibility into senior roles.

Property group Stockland is one of Australia’s most successful examples of a company which has fully embraced the idea of flexible working. In a recent article in The Australian Stockland general manager of employee relations Trevor Childs said the company developed a rigorous gender diversity policy after identifying low return to work rates for parents on leave.

“We only had a 56 per cent retention rate of employees returning from parental leave before the gender diversity policy and parental transitions program were introduced, and now it is up to 82 per cent,” Mr Childs said.

Stockland’s family friendly and flexible work policies include parental seminars for parents just about to leave work and have a baby or return to work, child care facilities, bring your family to work days, a family friendly corporate culture, merit based promotion, part time work and work from home opportunities.

Stockland managing director Matthew Quinn was involved in the DCA think tanks and says mainstreaming flexibility is critical to the company’s success:

“Embracing flexibility enables people to work smarter and is critical to maximising productivity and building a high performance work culture,” he said.

For a copy of the DCA’s report click here

This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in June 2012