Future of work

A new report into flexible work shows employees are doing their bit, but employers need to step up to ensure their wellbeing

- November 8, 2022 3 MIN READ
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More than a third of Australian knowledge industry workers are putting in extra time into their job outside of office hours, predominantly due to additional workload, but also because around 1-in-6 bosses have asked them to.

A new report, Reset, Restore, Reframe – Enabling Wellbeing through Flexible Working, from Swinburne Edge and Deloitte, reveals that the notion of “quiet quitting is non-existent in the sector as workers knuckle down to get the job done, but often lack guidance from their employers when it comes to dealing with Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) in the new flexible work environment.

The findings supplement research analysis of 1,553 Australian knowledge workers’ views and experiences of flexible work by Swinburne and Deloitte.

The data shows 34.5% of respondents are working more outside of normal hours, only 15.1% are working less and 48.1% are working the same amount of hours. When asked the reasons for working outside standard hours, 62.9% said workload, 43.4 % said choice and 15.8% said their employer asked them to.

The report, which provides practical guidance to organisations on implementing effective flexible working practices for employee wellbeing, found 23% of workers said they were working from home without a remote working policy.

Dr Sean Gallagher, Director of Swinburne’s Centre for the New Workforce said that without a policy and clear guidelines to manage their time away from the office, employees are exposed to psychosocial risks such as low role clarity and low job control.  The report shows that a substantial number of Australian organisations are unlikely to be meeting their obligations as part of the new WHS guidelines surrounding psychosocial safety.

Recent updates to the WHS model legislation now formally requires organisations to manage psychosocial risks, alongside physical risks, through the implementation of an effective risk assessment and control framework.

“Flexible work is the new frontier for organisations to manage their employees’ wellbeing. Flexible working delivers more time and control to the individual – better work-life balance – which enables them to better prioritise their wellbeing both during and outside of work,” he said.

“Our research finds that flexible working allows most individuals to feel a better sense of balance in their lives and experience improved levels of mental and physical wellbeing. This is a critical connection for employers to recognise.”

Leadership needed

Dr Gallagher said flexible workers told them they want and need leadership to ensure flexible working meet their individual needs and concerns.

“For instance: millennials are more likely to be concerned about their choice of work location negatively impacting on their career prospects (1.3x) or relationships at work (1.1x),” he said.

“Women are 1.7x more likely than men to choose ‘home’ as their preferred location compared to the ‘office’.

“Flexible work policies need to be equitable rather than equal, while also meeting the needs of the workforce and the organisation. Consulting with their workers about how to balance the equation between employee expectations and organisation needs is leadership in action.”

The finding concluded that when structured effectively, hybrid and flexible work has been found to improve both employee performance and wellbeing, and that leaders, and the examples they set, are critical to this being realised.

But organisations are struggling with the notion, with 70% of respondents who said their organisation had a formal remote work policy in place reported facing challenges with working from home.

Deloitte Australia partner Justin Guiliano said poor implementation of flexible working arrangements can lead to unintended consequences such as blurred work-life boundaries and increased workload hours, which are detrimental to employee wellbeing.

“We are seeing such a variety of preferences in where, when and how to work across the Deloitte team and our clients and this report discusses some of the key factors to consider when looking to maximise wellbeing through flexible working,” he said.

“A surprising insight was that the proportion of people preferring hybrid work doubles when respondents had more than two dependents within the household. An important factor which warrants further attention is the impact leaders can have on employees and their wellbeing through trust and expectation setting when it comes to flexible work.”