A Firm Approach to Flexibility

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Research shows that employees who can balance their lives are happier and more productive, with organisations like EY leading the way.


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STRIKING the balance between work and family life has never been harder. 

Being a present parent whilst climbing the corporate ladder and making time to stay fit is a struggle for many working Australians.

Grace Papers’ NSW head of client relationships, Amanda Meehan says flexibility enables workers to care for themselves, the community and others.

 “Everybody at some stage in their lives will have a need for flexible work hours,” Amanda says.

“That might be in the shape of parental leave, or to care for an elderly parent or disabled family member.

“But it is also important to take into consideration the need for self-care. If you are working full-time there is an expectation that you will stay well. So, it’s important that people have the flexibility to prioritise their well-being in the same way that a working parent can work around their childcare arrangements.”

Amanda says there’s a strong business case for flexibility because “studies show that employees who are able to balance their lives, and live their values are more productive.”

Organisations like EY have recognised the growing need for flexibility.

The accounting firm offers up to 12 weeks “life” leave so that staff can take time off when their family needs them. Or simply to take an extended break, recharge and see the world.

The bold move even attracted the attention of US talk show host Seth Meyers, who joked: “While in Australia you can now get 12 weeks life leave at EY to take a holiday and relax, companies in America will give women a half day off if they gave birth at their desks.”

Major news organisations also covered EY’s ground-breaking arrangement, which enables employees to take an additional eight weeks of self-funded leave on top of the standard four offered as a baseline.

EY has also introduced “term time” to allow staff to work five-days a week during the school term and take leave when their children are on holidays.

EY Oceania People Partner, Kate Hillman says its new policy wasn’t designed simply with working parents in mind. It also caters for employees who might want to spend time volunteering, trekking through Nepal or participating in training programs. 

“We’re innovating so we don’t lose these people while they pursue passions outside of work,” she explains.

 “Millennials are also driving demand for flexibility as their preference for diverse and stimulating career experiences overrides traditional workplace structures and timelines. 

“By next year, 80 per cent of EY’s workforce across the globe will be millennials, so this is a particularly significant consideration for us.”

Our most common flexible work requests

  • Build work around school hours (and school holidays)- School and work are essentially incompatible. There has to be a better way.

  • Be flexible about when work gets done- The 9 to 5 model is so last century. When there’s trust between company and employee, does it matter when the work gets done?

  • Take the gender out of part-time work- Men are twice more likely than women to have part-time requests denied

  • Hire part-time leaders, especially women- Our respondents want to see more women in leadership roles, and more leaders working part-time. You can’t be what you can’t see!

  • Give flexibility to everyone; not just parents- Much of the conversation about part-time work can focus on parents. But we know that people have different reasons for seeking flexibility. 

  • Think flexibly on flexibility…- People are interested in career breaks, secondments and volunteering. 

  • Let people work from home- We have the technology, why not use it! 

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