The HR Advisor

How To Approach An Employee's Request For Flexible Work Arrangements

Working from home

While flexible work arrangements have been the hot topic of the last decade, the question remains; how genuinely willing are employers to give it?

Being truly flexible requires a significant mindset shift for employers. It hands over control to the employee to determine how they work; whether it be from home, part-time, job sharing or non-typical hours. True flexibility provides employees with an element of freedom to design their work-life around their personal life and define work preferences which allow them to give their best. 

As you may expect, Millennials and Generation Z have fundamentally different career priorities than previous generations. Deloitte research found that attracting and retaining these younger generations is bolstered by flexibility, alongside workplace culture and financial rewards.

Older generations expectations of work are also evolving, largely due to the opportunities presented by the digital revolution. Offering flexibility, therefore, has become a key ingredient in ensuring your business has a competitive employee value proposition. 

Moving Beyond The Flexible Work Arrangement Worries

The companies that were quick to understand the benefits of flexible work and adopt the philosophy early realise that it can go a long way towards building a strong culture.

In my experience, the employers who resist flexibility do so due to concerns of control. A reduced ability to ‘keep tabs’ on employees and set their office 'face time' are amongst such common fears. 

The concern, ultimately, is that flexibility and high performance are mutually exclusive.

Once a company can move beyond this perception, they are able to reap the rewards of offering a flexible work structure.  Encouraging employees to design a work structure that suits them will create a trust-based culture that focuses on the value of the contribution the employees make, rather than the time they spend sitting at a desk.

Can I Deny A Request For Flexible Work Arrangements?

Flexible work requests can be refused in particular circumstances.  Fair Work’s legislation on flexible work states that employers are only able to decline a request for flexible arrangements on reasonable business grounds.

Reasonable business grounds include:

  • It would be too costly to implement
  • It impacts other employees and there is not capacity, or it is impractical, to change the other employees working arrangements
  • The proposed arrangements would be likely to result in a significant reduction in productivity and efficiency.
  • The working arrangements would have a significant negative impact on customer service.

It is imperative that employers think through the request carefully and look at all available options before responding to their employee’s request for flexible work arrangements.

Fair Work legislation requires that employees genuinely try to reach an agreement on a change in working arrangements for the employee. If the request is refused, a written response outlining the reasons, in detail, is required.

The Benefits Of A Flexible Work Culture?

When done correctly, flexibility is a tremendous advantage. Benefits range from increased employee retention, reduced absenteeism and greater employee satisfaction. Productivity can also increase, particularly if the employee works from home as they are saving time on their commute and they are not being distracted by potentially unnecessary meetings and tasks. Often the employee is determined to prove the success of the arrangement, so they work hard to retain their flexibility.

Great talent want to be able to balance their personal life with their work life. They want to be able to develop a schedule which allows them to contribute in the most valuable way.  People don’t want to spend their entire lives at work and nor should you want them to. Having interests, hobbies and passions outside of work make for a more balanced and interesting person. Offering flexibility will help improve your employee's lives which can increase their job satisfaction, work contribution and company-wide morale. 

Ultimately, offering flexibility can equally be a matter of best practice and maintaining compliance. In the case of the latter, the answer has been made for you. The real question, therefore, is, are you ready to embrace the inevitable shift towards flexibility that is already well underway.  


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