Australia’s skilled professionals certainly think so. An online poll of 3,248 Australian workers has found that 94 per cent would prefer to work flexibly – but fear it would disadvantage their career.
“From slower promotional pathways to less access to learning and development, a low profile within the organisation and even a loss of status, there is a feeling that the career of employees who work flexibly can suffer,” said Nick Deligiannis, managing director of Hays Australia and New Zealand, which conducted the survey.
Of the remaining six per cent of respondents, half said that flexible working isn’t on their list of priorities, and half said they would not work flexibly because the financial implications would be too great.
A separate, smaller survey conducted by Hays in March found that concerns around the negative impact of working flexibly were more pronounced among women. Some 65 per cent of women felt it was a ‘career-limiting move’ compared to 51 per cent of male respondents.
Women were found to take more advantage of flexible working options, with respondents reporting on average 30 per cent of women work flexibly within their organisations, compared with five per cent of men.
Flexible working can take many forms. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency – the Australian Government statutory agency to which all non-public sector organisations with 100 or more employees must report – the most common form of flexible working is carers leave (offered by 93 per cent of the organisations that report), followed by part-time work (84 per cent), unpaid leave (79 per cent), flexible hours (59 per cent) and time-in-lieu (51 per cent). A compressed working week, telecommuting and purchased leave were the least commonly offered options.
The agency found just over half of employers had a flexible working arrangement policy, while only 16 per cent reported having a ‘strategy’.
The benefits of offering flexible working are increasingly apparent, particularly for workplace gender equity, innovation, diversity, productivity and employee engagement.
“An extensive body of research demonstrates the business benefits of flexible working, and yet flexible work and careers are not mainstreamed in most Australian workplaces and seem only to be available to a select few,” said Diversity Council Australia. “In the face of globalisation, technology advancements and demographic shifts, organisations need to rethink their approach to flexibility.”
Telstra famously declared ‘All Roles Flex’ in 2013 a move which has since been replicated in other organisations such as the Australian Securities Exchange, PwC and ANZ bank.