In ten years of ageing workforce research, flexibility is a recurring theme. And from older workers, the resounding sentiment is, “I am happy to work longer, but not the way I’m working now.” In one sense, older workers have thrown down the gauntlet to employers; if you want workforce sustainability, then flexible work practices are a necessity for all ages and all stages.
But what do we really mean by flexibility? Ask any focus group around the country that question, and the answers are varied:
- Starting one hour later, three days a week so I can visit my mother in her aged care home
- Buying four extra weeks of leave per year so I can pursue the things I thought I could only do in retirement
- Having a job share arrangement with someone who also wants flexibility
- Working a four-day week so I can tend to my caring responsibilities.
- Having some choice in my rostered days
- Working from home for three days per week to reduce my commuting time
Chances are, you could add your own variation. In most workplaces, these things are all achievable from a policy perspective. But not from a practice perspective. Too often, flexible work options are put in the ‘too hard basket’ – too hard to manage, too hard to be equitable, too hard to measure. And many times, flexible work requests are nipped in the bud for fear of an avalanche of similar requests.
So, here’s the secret – trial it. Work out an arrangement that is safe to fail. Trial a flexible work agreement for six months with a firm structure for monitoring its success. At the end of the trial, you have choices. And you also have some first-hand experience to draw from.
For older workers, denial of flexibility can hasten full retirement. Employers stand to lose a valuable talent pool, if their managers cannot have conversations about flexibility. How risky is it to trial a flexible work arrangement with some of your most loyal, experienced workers? It’s a lot less risky than having them leave you well before time.
For further reading on flexibility, refer to the following resources:
RiseSmart Australia Blog
RiseSmart Global (SmartTalk HR Blog)
Flexible work arrangements: Fair Work Ombudsman
Strategic approach to flexibility: Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)
Employee flexibility toolkit: Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)
6 tips to negotiate flexible working arrangements: Flex Careers
How to negotiate flexible working arrangements: Seek- Career Advice
Job Sharing: Harvard Business Review