Flexible working is not a new concept and with Auckland’s competitive employment market and transport challenges, it’s becoming more of an expectation than an exception.

There’s compelling evidence and research proving flexible working can lead to increased productivity and greater wellbeing, job satisfaction and morale, while also decreasing absenteeism. This is surely a win-win for both employers and employees. Auckland firm Perpetual Guardian hit national headlines last year with its ‘Four Day Work Week’, citing evidence of less hours resulting in higher productivity. But is it happening in our workplaces, or is ‘flexible’ work just a myth? 

How flexible are New Zealand workplaces?  

Flexible working has been championed by the tech industry worldwide, with many startups on our shores embracing it too.  

Auckland is home to a thriving tech startup community that is already shaping the future of work in Auckland – check out this Idealog article on the successful use of co-working spaces at GridAKL. The availability of shared workplaces such as those at GridAKL and collaborative tools like Loomio and Slack, allow new ways of working for many Auckland businesses and freelancers. 

So how does New Zealand stack up overall? According to Stats NZ’s ‘The Survey of Working Life’ (2018), over 50 per cent of New Zealand employees already have flexible work hours, allowing them to start and finish work at different times each day, and one-third have worked from home. This flexibility does vary depending on the industry, as some professions such as medicine or teaching demand fixed working hours. The survey also found that Kiwi workers had greater job satisfaction and work-life balance if they had flexible work hours. 

Flexible working in NZ image

While the Stats NZ data shows construction doing comparatively well in this respect, research by a consortium including BCITO, Competenz, Connexis, MIT and The Southern Initiative, through Ako Aotearoa, describes a lack of flex as a barrier to entry for women into the industry. Their flexible working recommendations are: 

  • Part-time hours 
  • Staggered hours, where staff have different start, break and finish times 
  • Flexitime, where staff have the freedom to work in the way they choose outside set core hours determined by the employer. 

Is your flexibility policy worth the paper it’s written on? 

How does this align with your organisations policies? Have you used a ‘set and forget’ approach? When was the last time you dusted the policy off and gave it a critical review? If you’ve taken the step to get a policy in place – great, but have you stopped to reflect on whether it’s working? 

PWC1 and Boston Consulting Group2 have identified some common criticisms of flexible working policy implementation which includes: 

  • Face time being valued over impact and how this affects not only perceptions, but advancement opportunities. People having the ability to work from home in policy, but is it being stigmatised in reality? 
  • Not being genuine. Does someone job sharing do part-time hours? Or do they consistently end up doing extra work without compensation and then leave out of frustration? 
  • Not being reason neutral. Does your policy extend to carers, or grandparents, or those who want to volunteer? Do men feel like they can engage in flexibility, or will they be shamed if they choose to do the school pickup? Constellation Brands was recognised as a finalist in this year’s Diversity Works Work Life Balance category for its FlexAbility initiative, which aims to achieve this.
  • Not being modelled by leadership. Michele Embling, Chair of PwC New Zealand and Co-Chair of Champions for Change, a group of New Zealanders committed to raising the value of diversity and inclusiveness, has highlighted that flexible work must be demonstrated by senior leadership in order to be effective.3 Is this happening in your business, or do employees feel they can’t leave early because their manager never does? 

In order to attract and retain the best talent both locally and internationally, New Zealand employers can all facilitate and encourage flexible working. However, the attitude of senior management and company and industry culture can dictate how well this is executed. One thing’s for sure, the future of work is driven by the digital tools that allow us to work anytime and anywhere, so the workplace and how we interact with it is changing whether the naysayers like it or not.  

If you are looking for some more information; 

  • Champions for Change has some great tools on flexibility, developed right here in New Zealand. These include case studies, policy development and business case guides. 
  • Think flexible working is only for big businesses? The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has a practical guide, developed by Diversitas, for small and medium sized businesses about how flexibility can work for them.
  • Don’t have a video conference tool to enable online meetings? Check out Whereby, a free tool that enables you to do this.

[1] https://www.strategy-business.com/blog/Inflexible-work-arrangements?gko=ea6fe&utm_source=itw&utm_medium=itw20191107&utm_campaign=resp

[2] https://www.bcg.com/publications/2019/flex-work-programs-that-actually-work.aspx

[3] https://youtu.be/81Q5hT_RrdE

Tāmaki Makaurau is becoming future ready.

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