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Defining flexible work

Barbara Pocock defines the concept of work-life balance as:

People having a measure of control over when, where and how they work. It is achieved when an individual's right to a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work is accepted and respected as the norm to the mutual benefit of the individual, business and society.5

Workplace flexibility can be defined as the ability to have some control over when, where and how work is accomplished. This broad definition accommodates the various ways in which working arrangements can be made flexible. Flexible work is more than access to leave and flexible working hours. Although these are major structural components, workplace flexibility also includes flexible:

  • working hours (reduced hours, compressed working weeks, split shifts, autonomy in start and finish times)
  • working places (working from home, working from another location, use of social media to work on the move)
  • working practices (purchased leave, phased retirement, job-sharing, annualised hours).

The need for employees to have mechanisms to balance competing demands has also been expressed in legislative changes to the Fair Work Act 2009. Included, among other changes, were formal rights for certain eligible employees to request flexible working arrangements. The National Employment Standards, articulated as part of the Fair Work Act 2009, include provision for flexible working arrangements for employees:

  • who are the parents or have the care of a child school age or younger
  • who are carers within the meaning of the Carer Recognition Act 2010
  • with disability
  • who are 55 years of age or older
  • who are experiencing violence from a family member
  • who provide care or support for an immediate family member, or member of their household, who is experiencing violence from the member's family.

If these employees request flexible working arrangements, an employer may only refuse them on reasonable business grounds. The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman advises that flexible working arrangements may include changes in hours of work, changes to patterns of work and changes in location of work.6


5 B Pocock, ‘Work-Life ‘Balance’ in Australia: Limited progress, dim prospects’, Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, (2005), vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 198–209, p. 201.

6 Advice and information available at: http://www.fairwork.gov.au/.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018