The importance of flexible work
By Megan Berger
If there’s a single trend we can take away from the past few years in workplace development, it would be the shifting attitude towards flexible working for workers – parents or not.
For many reasons, it’s a very good thing that our society has begun embracing flexible work options like altered work hours, working remotely or from home and offering additional leave during life changes big and small.
But for all of the advancement, there’s one area that’s still lagging: professional flexible work options. A relatively new social enterprise called Getaflex is looking to address the issues that face those looking for professional flexible work options in a sea of full-time non-flexible jobs, and part-time job listings for low-skill, low-pay positions.
Getaflex founder, Amy Prebble, is hoping to change the current climate of flexible job searching for Kiwi men and women. “This is an issue I’ve been really passionate about since becoming a mother. I have three kids and I really started to notice the gaps that exist when I looked into getting back to work,” says Amy. “There’s a real lack of advertising for flexible jobs. I realised that companies need to be promoting flexible roles and particularly the well-paid, professional jobs so we can start to see the broader social and economic changes that occur when you mainstream flexible working for everyone.”
“[Lack of flexible work options] reduces the ability of women to advance to senior positions, and is an underutilisation of talent.”
Prior to Amy’s venture into the Getaflex space, she held a very different role as a New Zealand diplomat, with postings in Paris and Canberra, along with two years spent working for the New Zealand Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. It’s perhaps because of her own career pivots and breaks that she understands all too well the challenges that those seeking flexible employment face.
The fact is that without flexible options, career progression for many can stagnate. “If you don’t advertise the job, then people, particularly working mums, come back into the position they were at prior to going on maternity leave, but then they can’t move either in their organisation or elsewhere if no flexible working opportunities are offered,” says Amy. “This reduces the ability of women to advance to senior positions, and is an underutilisation of talent.”
To understand the implications that flexible working can have on society’s workforce, it’s important to learn just what businesses and workers are missing out on when they don’t have it. Increased productivity, greater employee engagement, lower stress levels and greater rates of diversity and inclusion are all positive business benefits tied to flexible working. And, of course, wider society benefits when both parents are better able to take care of children and elderly.
But Amy warns that we need to stop thinking of flexible work as something that’s exclusively for mums and start realising that it’s something that benefits all aspects of society.
“There are immense environmental benefits when you have flexible working hours or remote work options,” says Amy. “With those options, you can reduce congestion on the road, which in a city like Auckland is a key focus. Some workplaces have begun putting more flexible working arrangements in place as a resilience countermeasure as well, so that when an earthquake hits, teams are able to be split across different hubs and still be able to function.”
Another trend to keep an eye on relates to the role of our ageing population in the workplace. Our workforce looks completely different today than it did 20 to 30 years ago. Back in the ’90s, 6% of people who were aged 65 or over were in the workforce, and now it’s around 22%. That’s going to continue to grow,” says Amy. “Back in the ’80s, 1 in 4 workers was aged under 25, and it’s now about 1 in 7 workers. So as a result, there are fewer young workers coming through and we have more older workers in the workforce.”
“Our legislation states that anyone can apply for flexible working arrangements, and it’s important that everyone who wants to feels that they can, and sees options for it.”
All of these stats only help to underscore the point that flexible working initiatives need to be advertised, offered and used by everybody. “It’s crucial that we mainstream flexible working for everyone, so that it stops being seen as something that’s just for one particular group,” says Amy. “In New Zealand, our legislation states that anyone can apply for flexible working arrangements, and it’s important that everyone who wants to feels that they can, and sees options for it.”
A rising number of organisations in New Zealand are getting on board with flexible working and posting flexible roles through Getaflex, including Aurecon, Harrison Grierson, Transpower and University of Auckland. “A few organisations that I’m aware of offer the ability to purchase a few weeks of additional leave,” says Amy. “That’s a nice option for everybody, but especially during school holiday time, it’s great when you can draw on additional leave to be able to cover that big period. That’s a huge benefit for employees.”
Employers advertising flexible work options also have an advantage in attracting talent in a tight labour market. Because of these and many other reasons, it’s critical that employers start thinking about advertising their jobs as flexible.