Chapter 9 - Flexible work

The changing character of the Australian workplace is reflected in the way the ‘average’ Australian has changed over the last 100 years. In 1911, the average Australian was a 24-year-old male farmer. Fifty years later, the average Australian was a 29-year-old male working in an office environment. In 2011, the average Australian was a 37-year-old female employed part-time as a sales assistant.1 This changing character of work is inescapably linked to changes in Australian society with persistent pressure for work to be more malleable to accommodate the demands of a modern life, in particular, the need to be more flexible with access, location and practice.

Long-run social and labour force trends have reshaped the Australian workplace. These trends include an ageing working population, the increase in labour-force participation among women (particularly those with caring responsibilities), a shift from traditional blue collar to white collar occupations, increased participation in higher education, increased prevalence of dual-career couples, and changing employer and employee attitudes towards work and family.

Recent years have seen the proliferation of management, business and academic papers and reports relating to the benefits and, in a few cases, the pitfalls of flexible workforces and flexible work practices.2 It is generally accepted that to manage contemporary workforces in increasingly agile and dynamic workplaces, flexibility is key—flexibility in thought, in process, in management and in employment. Understanding the implications of flexibility is an ongoing challenge for the Australian Public Service (APS), just as it is for all Australian employers.

From an employer perspective, a number of widely acknowledged organisational benefits are associated with providing employees flexible work arrangements, including increased productivity, lower absenteeism rates, higher levels of employee engagement, reduced costs through the retention of experienced employees, improved employee morale, legal compliance with industrial, equal employment opportunity and anti-discrimination legislation, and increased workplace innovation and creativity.3 For the employee, increased access to flexible working arrangements offers the ability to better balance work and personal commitments.
It affords the opportunity to pursue further education, to volunteer and participate in other community commitments and it can reduce the time lost through commuting. The relationship between flexible working arrangements and positive employee and employer outcomes is complex, however, and it depends on the nature of the flexibility, tempo of the workplace, characteristics of the employee and extent to which the prevailing workplace culture values flexible working arrangements.4

This chapter examines the contribution increased employee flexibility may have on workforce productivity in the APS context. For many years the APS has led by example in providing for workforce flexibility. The conditions of employment that APS employees enjoy to help them manage the work-life relationship include access to various leave types, flexible work hours and options for part-time employment. This chapter also examines employee satisfaction with access to and use of flexible working arrangements within the APS and its impact on employee engagement. It highlights teleworking as a specific example of flexible work practices. Teleworking is examined for its impact on workplace productivity through outcomes such as employee engagement and performance.


Footnotes

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, (2013).

2 For example, National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, Changing Face of the Australian Labour Force, (2005); EL Kelly and P Moen, ‘Rethinking the Clockwork of Work: Why schedule control may pay off at work and at home’, Advances in Developing Human Resources, (2007), vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 487–506; R Drago, M Woden and D Black, ‘Who Wants and Gets Flexibility? Changing work hours preferences and life events’, Industrial and Labour Relations Review, (2009), vol. 62, no. 3, pp. 394–414; Australian Institute of Management, Managing in a Flexible Work Environment, (2012); along with publications and resources made available by the Work and Family Policy roundtable: http://www.workandfamilypolicyroundtable.org/.

3 LA McNall, AD Masuda and JM Nicklin, ‘Flexible Work Arrangements, Job Satisfaction, and Turnover Intentions: The mediating role of work-to-family enrichment’, The Journal of Psychology, (2010), vol. 144, no. 1, pp. 61–81; J Hayman, ‘Flexible Work–Schedules and Employee Well-being’, New Zealand Journal of Employee Relations, (2013), vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 76–87; Diversity Council of Australia, Working for the Future: A national survey of employees, Sydney, Diversity Council of Australia Limited, (2010).

4 C Troup, ‘Is Using Regular Flexible Leave Associated with Employee Wellbeing?’, Australian Journal of Labour Economics, (2011), vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 123–138; J Hayman, ‘Flexible Work–Schedules and Employee Well-being’, New Zealand Journal of Employee Relations, (2013), vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 76–87; EL Kelly and P Moen, ‘Rethinking the Clockwork of Work: Why schedule control may pay off at work and at home’, Advances in Developing Human Resources, (2007), vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 487–506; Centre for Work + Life, Morning, Noon and Night: The infiltration of work email into personal and family life, (2013).