FlexWork: Making a flexible work future work for everyone

woman sitting on floor and leaning on couch using laptop

As Australia emerges from two years of COVID impacts, new research from Deloitte Australia and Swinburne University of Technology has found that flexible working options and a focus on wellbeing are non-negotiables for Australian workers.

The report – Reset, Restore, Reframe: Making Fair Work FlexWork – is based on a wide-ranging survey of 2,000 Australian workers undertaken earlier this year.

Key findings include:

  • Wellbeing is top of mind – 93% of workers surveyed say their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing is just as important as pay
  • Workers want choice in their location of work – 78% of workers who can work remotely want to work hybrid or from home. So do 39% of workers who currently have to work onsite
  • People are working more and different hours – one in three workers are working more hours since the pandemic, and more than half are working outside their ‘standard’ hours at least once a week. Not all these non-standard hours are paid overtime, with more than a quarter (28%) of flexible location workers not compensated
  • Workers are putting a dollar value on FlexWork – close to two in three workers would be prepared to forgo a pay rise for more flexibility in when and where they work – and a significant cohort would trade up to a 10% pay rise.

This presents a series of FlexWork challenges for employers:

  • A need to heed employee concerns about unsustainable workloads and aspirations for better work-life balance, and transform their employee value proposition around flexibility and wellbeing
  • Acknowledge employee expectations when it comes to flexibility and pay, especially when framing remuneration and benefit packages to retain existing employees or attract new ones
  • Balance the strong demand for employee choice in where and when people work, while ensuring employers meet their obligation in knowing these work patterns, as required by both health, safety and wellbeing as well as FairWork
  • Reimagine the focus on culture and employees’ connection with the organisation – regardless of where the employee might work from –  with a focus on developing trust and fostering a sense of belonging and meaningful collaboration.

Deloitte Australia Workplace Integrity Partner and Gender Equity Leader, Natalie James, said: “In response to the pandemic, work patterns and worker expectations have been disrupted, and evolved into a new mindset about how, when and where they want to work, and what is most important to them.

“We’re still learning how to make FlexWork really work, especially hybrid work, and employers have an opportunity to redesign their frame to align with the transformation in employee mindset. If we put flexibility, wellbeing and inclusivity at the centre, they will be key strengths in attracting and retaining talent.

“Certainly, employers whose approach is to revert to pre-pandemic ways, rather than reframe, risk a disengaged workforce, losing the war for talent, and incurring the costs of replacing experienced workers in the face of labour shortages and shifts in worker expectations.”

Director of Swinburne’s Centre for the New Workforce, Sean Gallagher, said: “Most profoundly we see two new types of workers emerging – those who’ve experienced flexible working, and those still required to attend a worksite. Yet both groups are demanding access to some level of flexibility around both where and when they work. This presents a challenge to employers to address these needs, especially for onsite workers, and in an environment of labour shortages.

“Employers need to redefine normal work as flexible work. They need to reframe work to embed flexibility in their employee value proposition. The road ahead has many challenges and opportunities arising from the growing expectation of flexible working – and it’s a road we’re already on.”

Swinburne Associate Professor of Management, John Hopkins, said: “This research underlines how employers now have a valuable opportunity to engage with their workforce around this fundamental reframe and redesign of work – the where, when, and how it’s done – to improve the employee experience while simultaneously supporting the organisation’s overall mission, culture, and values.

“Australia needs to reset its perception of how we work to include more flexibility, and firms need to reframe their employee value proposition to better align with what’s really important to workers, both today and into a FlexWork future.”