The flexible working week
Flexible work arrangements are becoming increasingly popular in workplaces across New Zealand. Why? Because being flexible about how, when and where people work makes good business sense.
Flexible work arrangements can help retain skilled staff and reduce recruitment costs, raise staff morale and decrease absenteeism, and allow businesses to meet labour market changes more effectively. For employees, the opportunity to work flexibly can help them strike a better balance between their paid work and other life responsibilities.
Take, for example, the four-day week trialled by Perpetual Guardian last year and then put into place as a result. The aim of the trial was to boost productivity and incentivise Perpetual Guardian’s 240 staff to maximise the time spent on meaningful work while in the office. The trial saw productivity increase by 20 per cent, and staff were more engaged and enthusiastic. Not all took the extra time off as a three-day block; some employees left work early each day to beat traffic and spend more time with their children; others used the day to break up the working week.
When it comes to flexible work models, being paid for five days and working four is pretty world leading, and a big first step. For some managers and business owners however, the term ‘flexible working’ makes them extremely nervous. The idea that staff be allowed to work hours of their choosing and, at any point in time, decide to finish early or come in late appears to be entirely counterproductive. But as Perpetual Guardian and many studies show, flexible working isn’t a ticket to procrastination and chaos.
Providing a flexible work week can come in many shapes and forms.
• Flexi time/adjusted hours – employees work for an agreed total number of ‘core hours’ and choose when their working day begins and ends.
• Core hours – hours during which employees working flexi-time must be at work (for example, 10am to 4pm).
• Staggered hours – different start and finish times for employees in the same workplace.
• Time in lieu/time banking – any extra hours worked are compensated for by paid time off.
• Flexi-breaks – stopping for breaks at times that suit the employee’s particular workload or preferences.
• Part-time/reduced hours/job sharing/job splitting – employees work less than full-time hours. For this to happen the job is often redesigned and responsibilities split between a number of part-time employees.
How your organisation implements a flexible work week should be reflective of your size, the nature of work performed, whether shift work is a feature, whether there is a need to be open at nonstandard times and so on.
But the benefits of providing this flexibility are numerous. If work schedules match employees’ most productive hours, efficiency improves. Employees with more control over scheduling personal responsibilities during the workday are generally happier and more productive; as are staff who can commute outside of peak rush hours if they choose. Flexibility can help retain employees who need time off to care for dependents or to meet other responsibilities outside of paid work or expand the labour pool to include such people.
The simplest solution is to adopt a policy that lets all employees know you are open to flexible options. Make sure employees are aware that any reasonable requests will be considered and will be granted if at all practicable. This information should be reinforced in writing and displayed prominently.
A simple policy of this sort avoids undue rigidity and means a range of needs can be considered in the short and longer-term. That way you can see what arrangements are working for your team and business. Who knows, at some point in the future you may even move to more dramatic changes like Perpetual Guardian’s four-day week.