Flexible work in small and medium business

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Flexible work arrangements can assist employers to attract and retain skilled staff.  Implementing flexible work in your business may help:

  • reduce absenteeism and staff turnover
  • increase staff satisfaction and productivity
  • cope with workload peaks and urgent tasks
  • encourage return from parental leave
  • help employees meet both their work and family/personal commitments
  • delay retirement of senior and experienced staff

Getting started

Step 1

Identify which flexible work options best suit you and your employees. The flexible work options page has information on the types of flexibility that many businesses have implemented.

Step 2

Decide what flexibility your business can realistically offer. Make the decision based on cost, operational factors, customer needs, and your employment obligations under the relevant award, agreement and workplace laws.

Step 3

Set up a process for considering applications for flexible work arrangements. You could opt for a formal process with written policies and forms or decide that a mainly informal process best suits the workplace. 

If an informal process is used, it is still a good idea to have some documentation as this will protect both you and your employee, for example:

  • keep a record of employee requests and management decisions
  • if an employee request is denied, record the reasons.

Employees returning from parental leave may have a legal entitlement to request a variation in their working hours. Please contact Wageline for more information. 

Step 4

Measure the impact and success of flexible work on your business and employees. You can do this by talking to your employees about how it is working and tracking:

  • absenteeism – is it up or down since introducing work flexibility?
  • staff attraction and retention - is it easier to find new employees and hang on to existing workers?
  • customer feedback – how have customers reacted to your staff working flexibly?
  • business output – any changes (positive or negative) to production rates, sales, profits, costs?

Making flexible work a success    

Keep an open mind - don’t make assumptions

  • flexible work can be for everyone, not just mothers of school age children
  • if needed, talk to the employee to clarify what flexibility they want

Weigh up the impact (both positive and negative) of granting the employee request on:

  • work output, customer service, meeting deadlines
  • operating costs
  • payroll costs
  • other staff (morale and workloads)
  • rosters – will they need to be adjusted?
  • communication
  • the employee’s job satisfaction and likelihood of staying at your workplace or leaving

Consider how negative effects could be eliminated or managed by:

  • reducing the workload of the employee to match reduced hours
  • sharing one job between two employees
  • hiring casuals or temps to fill gaps
  • using technology to keep in touch with employees working from home

Make a decision

  • if “yes”, advise the employee, agree on a start date and discuss any changes to shifts, duties, and tasks. It is a good idea to put this in writing so that you have a record of what is agreed, including your expectations of the employee. 
  • if ‘no”, explain the reasons to the employee as this will help them to accept the decision. in some cases you may be required by law to put reasons for a ‘no’ decision in writing, but in any case it is always a good idea to do this

Managing flexible work     

You can manage flexible work and help make it a success by implementing strategies such as:

  • set up communication channels for part time employees and others who are away from the workplace – this could include laptops and mobile phones for employees who work from home
  • adjust work allocation so that employees working reduced hours also have a reduced workload
  • take care not to overload full time workers as this may result in resentment, work stress and/ or resignation - if there is surplus work due to an employee reducing their hours, consider job sharing or using casuals
  • give employees the training they need to do their job – irrespective of how many hours they work or their place of work
  • treat any personal or family matters sensitively and confidentially
  • give regular feedback on work output, attendance, service quality, team work, etc – what the employee is doing well and any improvements they need to make
  • if things aren’t working out for the business or the employee, try to resolve issues as they emerge rather than abandoning the arrangement


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