Busting flexible work myths: why not to tie workers to their desks

26 November 2018
Does presenteeism, or being physically in the office, make a difference to the business bottom line? A new University of Sydney report has found traditional models of 'face-time' limits access to flexible work.

The report, Does this desk make my job look big?, found that there was a significant cultural shift both within the eight organisations profiled.

Lead author, Troy Roderick, conducted the research at the University’s Sydney Policy Lab and Business School, examining the design and impact of flexible work arrangements in a range of Australian organisations.

“There seems to be an undercurrent of fear that clients of consulting firms, for example, are going to take their business elsewhere if employers embrace flexible work. Our report found this simply isn’t true,” said Mr Roderick.

The report found access to flexible work appeared to be gendered. 

One of the case studies in the report, a national company in the scientific and technical services sector, saw a consistent revenue growth of over 10 percent year-on-year since the introduction of an “All Roles Flex” policy.

Professor Rae Cooper, Co-Director of the Women, Work & Leadership Research Group, said leaders were a critical part of the process.

Our research shows that there is a serious undersupply of high-quality flexible jobs.
Professor Rae Cooper

Initiatives like these where organisations expand access to good flexible work, often through bold leadership, are incredibly important.”

First implemented by Telstra in March 2014, “All Roles Flex” has since been adopted and adapted by many Australian workplaces though little independent research existed on the real-world impact.

“More progressive employers are boldly trialling and adopting approaches that provide access to flexibility for everyone, in every role, for any reason,” said Troy Roderick.

More flexible working hours can reduce pressure on roads and public transport during peak times.
Troy Roderick, lead author

“Flexible work policies that were implemented in practice led to a range of positive and sustained impacts including increasing cultural diversity among employees, better work-life balance and lowered the staff turnover rate.”

Access to flexible work appeared to be gendered, according to the research. Another case study used a “Yes Flex” approach to flexible work, which was championed by the managing director.

Over a two-year period, there was no negative impact on client service and the number of men taking primary parental leave increased from seven percent to more than twenty percent.

Troy Roderick also flagged for consideration the potential impact on urban and transport planning as well as the environment in the research.

“More flexible work hours, such as shifting start and finish times in central office-based locations, can reduce pressure on roads and public transport during peak times.

“Working from home is often promoted as a way of taking small individual steps to reduce commuting and therefore greenhouse gas emissions.”

Director of the Sydney Policy Lab, Professor Marc Stears, said, “We are hugely excited by Troy Roderick’s work with the University of Sydney. He shows us vital ways to move towards gender equality at work.”

Mr Roderick conducted the research as a 2018 Community Fellow at the Sydney Policy Lab, under the supervision of Professor Cooper.

Read the report now (pdf, 4.4MB)

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Katie Booth

Media & PR Adviser

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