8 reasons why you and your employer should talk about a flexible work arrangement

Have connection, will work. Picture: ‘Caribbean beach series .. Cuba’ by Nick Kenrick, © 2016, Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
Flex Able Jobs founders Debbie Phillips and Christina Smerdon.

Everyone’s talking about flexible work arrangements.

A combination of collaborative tech, prohibitive real estate prices in capital cities and a shift towards starting families at later stages in life has more workers than ever seeking a better work-life balance.

A recent study showed as much as 50% of households now rely on dual incomes, putting more pressure on managing what time is left at home.

But just 48% of non-public sector organisations with more than 100 employees encourage flexible work.

“The nine to five work week is a relic of the 20th century, and this logic holds little place in today’s connected world,” Flex Able Jobs founders Debbie Phillips said. She said an increasing number of professional men and women of all ages wanted to work flexibly but often found themselves sacrificing seniority, responsibilities or pay levels.

“Those employers viewing flexible work just as a ‘mum returning to work’ option are simply going to get left behind in the race for talent,” Phillips said.

To tap into the movement, Phillips and Christina Smerdon recently launched Flex Able Jobs, a new online job board targeting skilled professionals seeking flexible work arrangements and offering certification for companies which can guarantee they will discuss a flexible arrangement.

The benefits for employers are well-documented. Employees are less stressed about three-hour commutes or the huge mortgage they needed to take out to get closer to the office. Staff have less distractions, smaller office spaces reduce overheads. Morale is high, sick leave is low.

And above all, hiring away from the office opens up a huge pool of top talent not restricted by geography.

But if you don’t believe that, we found eight professionals only too happy to tell us what they like best about spreading their work between the office and home.

1. Spending more time with family

Picture: Getty Images

Spending more time with family remains the top reason employees choose to work flexibly (Bain & Co Report).

Tim Wall is a vice president of safety and risk at a large oil company. While his role was originally going to be Melbourne-based, because of the large amount of travelling his role entails, Tim works from his Brisbane home when not travelling.

“I have a daughter studying in Brisbane and my wife is a full-time carer for her mother who’s not well. I wanted to be based here in Brisbane and be able to be home as many weekends as possible,” Mr Wall said.

When Michelle Kretschmer, district executive at ANZ Business Banking was looking for her current role, she knew finding an organisation that walked the talk on flexible work arrangements was imperative for her to be the mother she wanted to be and have the career she wanted to have.

“One of the key drivers for me was working for an organisation that valued workplace diversity and flexibility. I was actually interviewing ANZ as they were interviewing me. I knew I still wanted to be a full time mother and I didn’t want nanny arrangements et cetera because that didn’t work for me personally,” Kretschmer said.

2. Healthy body

Development manager at Mirvac, Tom Faulkner. Picture WGEA

Tom Faulkner is a 27-year-old development manager at Mirvac in Melbourne. Although in the early years of his career, Tom’s role is very demanding and he works up to 12 hours per day. Outside of work, Tom plays beach volleyball at a national level for which he trains or plays 5 to 7 days per week.

Tom needed flexibility in his role to balance his professional ambitions with his sporting pursuits. He does not want to sacrifice career opportunities but also doesn’t want to burnout as time goes on. He doesn’t want to feel like he’s “sneaking away from the office” or dancing around his choice to pursue an out–of-work passion.

Tom negotiated with Mirvac compressing a five-day week into a four-day week, having two half-days off per week while keeping his KPIs and wages at the same level.

3. Healthy mind

Daniel Ricciardo, time out. Picture: Getty Images

“In corporate life there is such a high level of looking bulletproof, but if you’re not living well in your own life you can only put it on for so long,” says David Ball, professional wellness mentor and owner of Sunshine on Legs.

And research backs this up – giving employees control over work time helps reduce burnout, perceived stress, and psychological distress, and increases job satisfaction (American Sociological Review 2016).

No surprises here really – people are more productive when they feel good and companies ought to encourage employees to look after themselves holistically.

4. As an alternative to retirement

Quantity surveyor, Robert Little. Picture: Scott Little

Robert Little is a 70-year-old quantity surveyor who has worked in senior management positions in the international property, construction, mining and infrastructure industry for 40 years across the world for companies including WT Partnership, Newcrest Mining, Leightons, Arup, Multiplex and Altus Page Kirkland.

After his last assignment in Dubai in 2011, Robert was not ready to retire and chose to work flexibly, part time with the Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors as their academy course reviewer.

“I travel to Sydney every two weeks for a coordination meeting, the rest of my work is done from home on the Gold Coast. I really value the freedom and flexibility. Had I not been able to find part time work, I would have retired,” Mr Little said.

Robert believes more flexibility in the workplace would allow older workers to impart their experience and knowledge to others, which would complement the professional development of younger full time employees.

5. To work on a side project

Readify senior consultant Tatham Oddie.

The days of having a career with a single employer are long over. People move across companies and industries move than ever, some even holding two jobs at once.

BankWest’s 2015 Business Trends Report shows the number of people running their own businesses on a part time basis has grown by 19.8 per cent over the past 10 years.

While a senior consultant at technology company Readify, Tatham Oddie worked an 80 per cent loading for the first few years.

“The scheduling was flexible and negotiated between me and Readify. Sometimes it was four days per week, other times it was four weeks on, one week off. I used the 20 per cent time out to work on a digital startup. While that project didn’t pan out commercially, it gave me a great side-area to test my ideas and develop new skills outside technology, that have ultimately come back in to help my career at Readify,” Oddie said.

Flex Able Jobs actually started out as an extracurricular gig for co-founder Debbie Phillips, who was employed when the idea germinated.

“My role as the procurement superintendent at BP was a flexible full-time role, but as BP allowed me to have flexibility with start and finish times, use a compressed work and telecommute, I was able develop the idea for Flex Able Jobs whilst holding this full time position,” Phillips said.

6. Reduce or eliminate the commute

Flex Able Jobs co-founder Christina Smerdon.

Commuting to work at peak times of the day is not only bad for the environment, it’s also making us miserable, especially as commutes start earlier and last longer than ever.

Flexible work can allow people to work remotely, or start and finish work earlier or later, to reduce commuting time. In 2011, Flex Able Jobs founder Christina Smerdon worked in India, where she started and finished work an hour and a half before the standard work day.

“Part of this was habitual, part of it was to get some quiet time before the day kicked in. But mostly it was to beat the traffic that could stretch my 15 minute commute out to an hour or two,” Smerdon said.

In San Francisco, the subway train system (BART) is trailing a program that will offer cash or other rewards to nudge commuters into traveling before or after rush hour.

7. Health reasons or caring for someone with health concerns

Sales engineer, Matt Creevey.

Human beings are not industrial revolution machines. As we flow through the seasons of our lives there may be times when our physical or mental health no longer allow us to work the standard work week.

Post-stress or burnout, a heart attack, bereavement, depression – we all know talented professionals who have experienced health challenges that knocked them down for a period of time. Access to quality, flexible work arrangements allows them to get back up again much faster.

At other times, we are called on to step back from our own lives and needs and become the designated carer for another person.

Fourteen years ago, Matt Creevey was employed as a sales engineer when his son became unwell and needed full time care. Matt ceased his full time role to become Harri’s carer.

“I would have loved the opportunity to participate in the paid work force two days a week, to keep up the connections and product knowledge. Being able to assist in special projects where short bursts of a full time role could have been advantageous for both employer and myself,” Creevey said.

8. Because I can

‘home office’ by velkr0, © 2016, Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

The 9-5 work week is a relic of the 20th century, and this logic holds little place in today’s connected workplace. Smartphones, laptops and other technology advances means much of our work can be done from anywhere, anytime. So why not?

Julie McKay, the executive director of the Australian National Committee for UN Women and a gender advisor to Chief of the Defence Force says:

“If you are a worker who actually needs structure and a desk and timeframes and you need to know what time you start and finish, then that’s your choice. And this debate about flexibility is all about choices. I think that rather than that being the dominant choice, it just needs to be one of a suite of choices.”

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