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workplace flexibility

Small businesses can achieve workplace flexibility too!

By Nicola Vass - 23rd October 2018  |  Government

You don’t need to look hard to find another news story about big business offering great flexible work perks to their employees. Large organisations like PWC, Commonwealth Bank and Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning are attracting talent to their organisations by promoting access to flexible work arrangements amongst their other quirky workplace perks (anyone want a room dedicated to building Lego?).This is great news for Australian workers who indicated in a recent survey that flexible work practices is their most sought-after workplace benefit (59%). It’s also great for business with research showing that organisations who provide work-life support and flexible work options have greater employee engagement and increased customer satisfaction.

Currently Fair Work requires all businesses to consider flexible work requests from certain employees and can only refuse them on reasonable business grounds. But under a new clause set to be inserted into all modern awards, employers will need to justify their decision if they choose to deny a request and employees will have the right to pursue legal action if they disagree with the outcome. In justifying their decision, the full bench noted that there is ‘a significant unmet employee need for flexible working arrangements’. In other words, despite all the evidence showing that flexible work practices can help businesses, it’s still not being made available to most workers.

The big question then is why not?

Well, small businesses are not happy with the Fair Work decision and considering they make up 97% of Australian businesses this is a problem. The attitude is that although it’s great for the big companies, it just isn’t workable for small business.

But that hasn’t been our experience at INS.

workplace flexibilityWorkplace flexibility has been embedded in the culture at INS since we first commenced operation in 2011. As a small business, this approach sets us apart from our peers and has seen us recognised as employers of choice by the Australian HR Awards and Australian Business Awards in 2018.

Our approach to flexibility is pretty straight forward. We think that what matters most is the results our people are achieving, not the time they spend at their desks. We’re also really passionate about making INS a great place to work and believe it starts with treating our employees like adults and understanding the importance to helping them balance work and life. It also means being able to have honest and robust conversations so we’re clear about our expectations and will call it out if we don’t think things are working. In the end, this creates a culture of mutual respect.

All of our employees (including contract employees) have access to flexible work arrangements which can include job sharing, part time, work from home and variable working hours. These practices are regularly discussed and promoted by the executive team and tailored to suit individual needs.

This doesn’t mean flexibility is always easy.

If you have a role that needs to be available during business hours, it’s not always possible to change the working hours. But maybe they can still be available while working from home? Or, if it’s important that they’re physically present (like a reception-based role) there might be opportunities for the role to be job shared. What’s counts most is that employers are open to looking at options and aren’t stuck with a ‘9 to 5’ mindset simply because that’s how it’s always been done.

We think the proof is in the pudding.

At INS we have incredibly loyal employees with a turnover rate of less than 5% which is pretty incredible considering half our staff aren’t permanent. They point to our flexible workplace as one of the reasons why they love working for INS and in a recent engagement survey 100% said they were proud to work for INS. To continue to provide great services to our clients, it’s critical that we can attract and retain high quality talent so our focus on providing a flexible workplace has not only been good for our staff, but it’s great for the bottom line too.

“Life Balance” is championed by our CEO. This means managers are empowered and have the authority to encourage and promote flexibility within their teams. The management team know that employee support and flexibility is not a luxury spend. The cost of flexible work practices and wellbeing initiatives are counted as a bona-fide operational cost and are reflected in our financial management systems. When money is tight, management takes a holistic approach to reallocating funds, meaning that employee benefits are never compromised.

Some organisations shy away from flexibility in fear of it being abused. At INS, we believe that although it could happen, an incident can be managed with an honest adult discussion. Being caring and having standards of behaviour are congruent with each other. To receive you must give. Some of our flexible work practices include:

• An on-site creche and travelling nanny service
• Employer-funded paid parental leave
• Job sharing
• Part time work
• Variable start and finish times
• Flexibility to reduce and increase hours
• Working from home / remote location
• Special leave available for stress (personal or work), emergencies, domestic
violence and / or significant health events, in addition to standard leave
• Paid cultural / ceremonial leave
• Paid Volunteer / community service leave

The combination of INS work benefits and flexible practices make for an extremely happy and productive workplace. Employees know they can make their own decisions around how to plan their workload and have permission to factor in their personal lives. As a result, our team are able to focus on their roles and meet client needs.

Work-life balance is not just about being able to work from home or leave early on Fridays. We create an environment where staff have the flexibility to create a life that is integrated into their work. A great example of this is the on-site creche. While this is a brilliant benefit, having the flexibility to spend their lunch break with their child is priceless. INS employees never have to make a mad dash across town to pick up their kids. If they need a few extra minutes at work, they know the kids are nearby. If they are running late in the morning, they don’t need to make two stops as care is on-site. This provides space for our employees to breathe and know their kids are doing great while they get their work done.

The public sector have been leading the way for flexible work-practices!

Workplace flexibility isn’t an issue exclusive to the private sector. With HR strategies such as talent mobility being more widely integrated into public sector organisations, workplace flexibility remains front of mind. The Victorian government have already made moves towards integrating flexible work practices into their state’s public sector. In the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, their move to flexible roles has led to increased levels of engagement, trust and productivity. As well as this, NSW Public Service Commission have adopted an “if not, why not” approach to workplace flexibility. And they’re not alone. The Australian Public Sector have been leading the way for flexible workplaces for years.

Ultimately, as flexible work becomes a standard offering in Australian workplaces, both in the public and private sector, organisations who hold out and continue to say ‘it just can’t work here’ are going to lose out. Their best employees are going to look elsewhere and those who stay are likely to be disengaged and ready to jump ship should a better opportunity arise.

Every organisation is different and what works for one might not work in another. But creating a great workplace doesn’t need to be about bean bags and ping pong tables. It should be as unique as your people.

Article written by Kellie Grant, Human Resources Manager at INS in response to SmartCompany.com.au article.

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