Workplace flexibility what you want? Here’s how to get it
Published in the Australian Financial Review 15 September 2016
By Charlotte Rimmer
Flexibility is such a topical word but what does it really mean? Who wants it and how do you get it?
Salaries are not just about money – your renumeration is called a package as it consists of all the attractive, enticing temptations to draw you in to a new role and keep you there.
Flexibility is one word I hear bandied around at negotiating stage. It demonstrates that an employer is supportive, compassionate and open to an employee’s personal requirements. It is something the employee can request without “perceived cost” and is considered a perk. Employees want it, and employers wish to allow it but they all find it frustrating when the structure is not clearly defined.
So what is it and how do you get it?
The Fair Work Ombudsman states that on completion of 12 months’ continuous employment, an employee may make the request for flexible work arrangements on specific conditions. But I find these requests are part of the initial salary discussion. About 80 per cent of Australia’s employers are SMEs, indicating that they tick two of the following three boxes: fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees; consolidated gross revenue of less than $25 million or consolidated assets worth less than $12.5 million.
If you work in a small business, you are a big fish in a small pond – in a team of 10, you are equal to 10 per cent of your workforce. So how does flexibility affect your employer?
If you divert your phone and answer your calls from anywhere, does your absence impact the business? Well, yes, it affects the others in your team who may need to find that one document, fill a specific order or be present at a meeting on your behalf when a client shows up at the door. Unless you sit in an office on your own or hot desk, you leave a space when you’re not there – acknowledge this as it is what employers see when they hear the “request for flexibility”.
Team morale, group meetings, consistent response to your clients can all be affected by absence from the office. It’s not impossible, but don’t ignore the impact on your colleagues. They have a Monday morning wind-up and a Friday afternoon relax, you may do the same on other days when they’re already knee-deep in projects.
Take for example a Northern Beaches company in Sydney with a largely flexible workforce of 16. This is largely successful as the individual teams have worked closely with each other to ensure that the desks are covered. A morning surf, afternoon personal training session and children school pick-up are all accommodated.
But when a last-minute pitch/presentation is due, it can be hard to rally the troops and complete to deadline. So we have created a call-out – the word “rally” is texted to the team. All those who have succeeded in their quest for flexible work arrangements need to come to the office, the team supports each other and the business succeeds in its goals.
So if you want flexibility, how do you get it?
• Put a business case forward: be realistic, list what do you want and how it will affect the business.
• Consider your role: how much is face to face and what/who will be impacted? Show how you have chosen the days/times to minimise this.
• Be specific: what flexibility do you want? Come in late/start early/work at home?
• Work out the purpose: why do you want it? Be transparent about whether it’s to support your family/sport/lifestyle.
• Plan ahead: will your requirement change with the season/school term?
• Be understanding and collaborative: think about the business and your colleagues, who and how will they be effected? It needs to work for everyone.
• Be honourable: once it’s agreed, stick to your side of the bargain, don’t continue to ask for further grace. If you’ve made a mistake, address it professionally at your next review
Charlotte Rimmer is director of Aide de MD, which advises small businesses.