Flexible working hours arrangements
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The following guide provides information on the implementation of flexible working hours arrangements in your workplace.
What is a flexible working hours arrangement?
Flexible working hours arrangements discussed in this kit include staggered start and finish times and accrued time (also known as flex-time).
Staggered start and finish times enable employees to choose their time of arrival and departure within the limits set by their relevant Award, i.e. the ordinary spread of hours (e.g. 6.00am to 6.00pm Monday to Friday) and subject to any further restrictions imposed through organisational core hours, i.e. designated periods of time during the day when employees are required to be at work (e.g. between 10am and 4pm).
Accrued time is any authorised hours worked in excess of an employee's standard working hours requirements (e.g. 7.25 hours a day or 38 hours a week), which are worked within the ordinary spread of hours (work performed outside the ordinary spread of hours may attract overtime or time off in lieu (TOIL) dependent on award provisions).
Accrued time can be used:
- where operational demands require employees to work beyond their standard working hours, employees can apply to take accrued hours as either a full or part day’s leave, subject to adequate accrual of hours and provided business requirements are met
- where employees require flexibility in the length of their workdays – e.g. an employee may want to work only five hours on one day and make up their required hours during the other days of the week. Thus, the total weekly work hours would not change.
What positions can be performed using flexible working hours arrangements?
Determining whether flexible working hours arrangements are suitable for certain staff depends on their roles and their associated core hours. For example, reception staff may have core hours that allow less flexibility in start and finish times compared to some other roles.
However, if reception staff work in a team they could negotiate a roster of start and finish times. If working alone, some flexibility may be provided by other colleagues covering calls and taking notes which the receptionist can follow up on arrival. Employees’ total weekly hours do not diminish when using flexible working hours arrangements, so employees should be able to perform all their tasks as per normal, just at different times.
Benefits of flexible working hours arrangements
Flexible working hours arrangements can offer a number of potential benefits to employees and managers/organisation.
Benefits for employees
- May assist employees to better attend to their personal needs, such as attending to domestic or household responsibilities
- May ease employees’ commute time (allowing for off-peak travel)
- May allow more flexibility in dropping off and picking up children or other relatives requiring care.
Benefits for managers/organisation
- No impact on staff entitlements – no change to total hours
- May attract a more diverse range of workers (younger-parental-older groups looking for flexibility in operational hours)
- Can provide the opportunity to extend hours of operation when required
- Can be used to improve scheduling for peak workload by overlapping employees schedules
- Provides a low cost employee benefit which can impact positively on staff retention
- May provide for more efficient use of workplace facilities or equipment through increased spread of hours in which they are used.
Frequently asked questions about flexible working hours arrangements
Some of the questions and concerns you may have about flexible working hours arrangements:
Do employees have to give a reason for requesting flexible working hours arrangements?
Employees are not required by law to provide a reason, but failure to provide such information could affect your ability to fully consider all relevant factors.
It is suggested that with any arrangement for flexible work negotiated between you and the employee, the process is transparent and all relevant factors are considered. These factors would include your consideration of how the proposed arrangement would affect the business, the team and the individual employee, as well as the employee’s reasons for the requested arrangement and any consequences for them if the arrangement can not be implemented. Assure confidentiality of any personal issues that may be disclosed to you in the request.
Will employees try to work extra hours to get a day off?
Employees should be made accountable for their accrued time. This means their time spent working should be reflective of their workload. It is up to you to monitor employees’ workloads and accumulation of working time. If there appears to be a discrepancy between an employee’s workload and amount of accrued time you should raise this with the employee.
What if an employee who needs supervision wants to work hours when supervision is not available?
Effective work scheduling and staff rostering can ensure appropriate coverage in most cases. In situations where staff require constant supervision or support (e.g. case managers seeing clients, employees operating heavy machinery or dangerous equipment) scheduling of operational duties can be made during hours of supervisory availability, leaving remaining hours for supporting duties (i.e. administration and other tasks). It’s also viable for employees to receive support and guidance from more experienced peers rather than a supervisor, depending on their tasks.
How do I prevent understaffing from occurring at any time?
With a defined ordinary spread of hours and, if applicable defined core hours, managers can ensure employee hours are scheduled so they meet operational needs. A work schedule (Appendix 1) can be used to plan and ensure that there are enough employees (either in the office or working in other locations) to meet operational needs.
How will a workplace deal with urgent requests received either late in the afternoon or early in the morning when the employee working flexible hours is not at work?
There are a number of options which may be considered when this situation arises, including:
- introducing buddy systems where another employee is able to reply to urgent queries and provide information on other employee’s work projects
- exploring whether there is flexibility in employees’ work hours to respond to emergencies and unforeseen deadlines
- discussing whether employees are available to receive calls after they leave work (but within the ordinary spread of hours) in the case of an emergency or urgent request.
Will it create difficulty in scheduling staff meetings, coordinating projects, etc.?
Creating a work schedule (Appendix 1) will provide clarity about when employees are working and what times or days they are all in the workplace. If there is no time at all in a week or fortnight that all employees are in the workplace, you may need to discuss with them how work schedules can be adjusted to ensure that all employees are at work for a common period each week or fortnight (just a couple of hours is enough). This time can be used to have staff meetings, discuss projects, coordinate associated tasks, etc.
How can I be sure that employees working staggered start and finish times are working their required time?
Employees should be accountable and responsible for monitoring their work hours. Timesheets are a tool that can be used for monitoring work hours, but trust between you and your employees is also important.
What if all/multiple employees want to take accrued time off on the same day?
You will need to make clear to employees that this is generally not possible. Equal distribution and rotation of days off will provide everyone with their preferred days at some time.
Specific factors to consider for flexible working hours arrangements
Consideration of the following basic principles may assist as a guide when implementing flexible working hours arrangements:
- Equal access to flexible working hours
All employees should have access to flexible working hours arrangements through a transparent, equitable and recorded process, unless there are overwhelming reasons to the contrary (e.g. supervision, essential service delivery, workplace safety).
- Focus on flexibility
Aim to be flexible. Operational needs may require working hours to be predictable with limited scope to alter work schedules. However, business and employee demands may change, so working hours arrangements need to be flexible enough to adjust. Review of the working hours arrangements should be regularly undertaken.
- Operational demand
Communication with your staff is crucial to ensure necessary work outputs or services are delivered under flexible working hours arrangements.
- Performance management
You should appraise staff performance based on their output and required competencies, rather than observation of their working patterns. Flexible working hours arrangements should be negotiated, consistently and clearly documented and reviewed regularly.
- Adopt a specific policy on working hours
Flexible working hours arrangements affect the operation of the organisation so clear and specific policies and management support are needed to assist employees and supervisors to understand and make use of the options.
Implementing a flexible working hours arrangement
Plan prior to implementation of flexible working arrangements
Adequate planning prior to the introduction of flexible working arrangements is crucial.
You should develop specific plans to:
- communicate and advise colleagues and clients of compressed schedule arrangements
- ensure communication is maintained with compressed schedule staff members (i.e. key staff meetings, networking, social opportunities)
- ensure adequate coverage for the purpose of work continuity and service delivery
- ensure equity in the access to training and promotional opportunities.
It is important to anticipate challenges and to constructively work through them.
Communication of flexible working hours arrangements
It is vital that employee working patterns are communicated effectively to the relevant team members and clients. Alternative contacts/buddy arrangements should be established and communicated to ensure continuity of work, including continued client service delivery.
Communication and interaction amongst employees
When employees work flexibly, their level of interaction and communication with other employees may alter. This is something to be aware of as it is important for employees to interact for a variety reasons, including sharing updates on projects, coordinating tasks, and establishing and developing collegial relationship.
Ensure work schedules allow for all employees to have common time in the workplace for at least a few hours a week where face to face interactions can occur. Employees who have elected to utilise the availability of working flexible hours must take responsibility to ensure that line managers and co-workers are aware of their attendance or non-attendance at work
Suitable planning of staffing resources should be undertaken to ensure adequate coverage across the working week. This can be achieved by using a work schedule (Appendix 1, link) and calendar (a yearly calendar is good to plan for employee holidays and extended periods of leave), which allow you to identify and record employee coverage and opportunities for flexibility. It is important that coverage levels are continuously monitored to ensure an adequate number of employees are available.
Access to training and promotional opportunities
Managers must ensure that all staff, including those on flexible working hours arrangements, have equal access to training, development and promotional opportunities.
Practical tools to assist with flexible working hours arrangements
Communication of work hours and availability
The following tools can help you improve communication in the workplace and assist with workflow continuity.
- Employment work schedules
An employee work schedule [Appendix 1, link] should include employee working hours and work location. Schedules should be well maintained and accessible by all employees. An employee schedule can assist you in identifying common times, that is, when all employees are in the office. This is important to plan staff meetings, and social events such as morning teas. Ensure hard copy work schedules are displayed throughout the workplace.
- Planning calendars
A yearly calendar containing all 12 months on one page is an easy and inexpensive tool for planning employees’ holidays, long service leave, or any other extended periods of leave. Display the calendar for everyone to see so employees have a clear picture of who will be away at what times. This should assist employees in planning their own absences and gaining insight into employee coverage.
- Employee online calendars
Employees should use their online calendars to communicate their work schedule to their colleagues. This means an employee should give colleagues access to their online calendar.
- ‘Out-of-office’ message
When an employee will be away from the office, an out-of-office message should be turned on, outlining when they will be back and who can be contacted in the meantime.
Planning for employees taking accrued leave
- Identify peaks and troughs in operational workloads
Managers need to identify times during the working cycle (week / fortnight / month) where operational workloads will rise and fall. This will give you an idea of the days employees can take time off and what days you need employees to work.
Understanding workload patterns will place you in a better position to negotiate with employees who want to take time off when workloads are at a peak. If you can clearly and objectively explain to an employee why their request is difficult to accommodate, they are likely to be more understanding and willing to reconsider their request and make appropriate changes (e.g. change it to another day when workloads are not so high).
- Negotiate with employees to agree when accrued time off is taken
Managers need to communicate effectively with staff regarding their preferences for time off. It is important to ensure too many employees are not granted the same day(s) off. Where overlaps do occur, managers need to assess the required operational staffing levels and, if necessary, negotiate alternative days that are more appropriate. This should be done on an equitable and transparent basis, providing a rotation of preferred times where possible.
- Use an open access calendar where staff can record preferences for accrued time off
Managers should encourage implementation of an ‘open access’ staff calendar for recording of accrued time off preferences. This can be in the form of an all office calendar, reflecting the accrued time off preferences of staff or the recording of accrued time off preferences on personal online calendars (this will require staff to share calendar access with colleagues). These open access calendars should be discussed regularly (for example during weekly staff meetings), so accrued time off can be negotiated and determined.
- Timeframes for submission of flex leave requests
Managers should establish a standard timeframe within which employees are required to submit their flex leave requests. Such timeframes should be adhered to whenever possible and will ensure service delivery requirements are met within time constraints. This will also facilitate a more equitable spread of flex leave across the work unit.
- Recording flex leave approval
Managers should ensure that all flex leave is approved via email and subsequently attached to the relevant attendance sheets before the manager of the work unit signs it off.
- Buddy systems
These will enable employees and clients to obtain urgently required information when an employee is away. A buddy system may be developed with people who have differing start and finish times to ensure coverage of all work areas across all operating hours. A work buddy would have basic knowledge and understanding of the key work areas and projects of their buddy.
- Telephone redirection
Employees should ensure that on their accrued day(s) off or the hours they are not working (if starting late or leaving earlier), arrangements are in place for answering their telephone. Redirection of the telephone through to other staff who have agreed can be considered as an option.
Managers using flexible working hours arrangements
A manager on flexible working hours arrangements can effectively manage staff. It may be constructive to think about how much time a person spends with their manager each week. Do they need to be supervised all the time?
Managers may consider the following issues when seeking to utilise flexible working hours:
Flexibility in implementation
Flexibility is key for managers who seek to use flexible working hours arrangements. There must be a willingness to consider alternative options in finding an arrangement that suits you, your employees and workplace needs.
Some questions for you to consider include:
- What days, or hours of the day are generally busy and require me to be available to employees (either inside or outside the workplace)?
- What days, or hours of the day are usually less busy and would allow me to take some time off or arrive later/leave earlier?
- Are there other employees who can look after some of my duties when I am away (this may provide career opportunities for others)?
- Are there other managers who can look after some of my duties when I am away?
- In the case of an emergency, am I able to come into the office or manage the issue from an alternate location?
- Is an emergency contact available to employees in the event of my absence?
Feedback from employees and your supervisor
Formal and informal feedback is useful to ascertain your employee’s and supervisor’s views on your flexible working hours arrangements and how well they work for them.
Daily communications to employees and active support of flexible working hours arrangements will help to reinforce management commitment. Managers themselves utilising flexible arrangements will demonstrate this support further.
- Record keeping
Many managers are not required to record their working hours, which are often in excess of the required working hours.
Managers looking to implement flexible working arrangements can benefit from recording actual hours worked, as it:
- provides accurate ‘time worked’ records to your supervisor
- provides a record to support any business case for workload support, including extra staffing.
- Include mobile telephone numbers for staff working out of the office.
- Distinguish clearly between staff working out of the office (telecommuting) and those on a day off and make this a wall chart so everyone can see this information easily including directors, CEOs and administration staff.
- Update the roster regularly.
|Staff member A||8.30 am - 5 pm||8.30am - 4.45pm||8.30 am - 4.45pm||Working from home||8.30 am - 12.30 pm||List of major work areas|
|8.30 am - 4 pm|
|Staff member B||All day||All day||All day||All day||All day|
|Staff member C||8 am - 5 pm||8 am - 5 pm||8 am - 5 pm||8 am - 5 pm||8 am - 5 pm|
|Staff member D||8.15 am - 5 pm||Working from home||9 am - 5 pm||Day off||9 am - 5 pm|
|9 am - 5 pm|
|Staff member E||9 am - 5 pm||9 am -5 pm||9 am - 11 am||9 am - 5 pm||9 am - 5 pm|
|Staff member F||Day off||8.30 am - 4.15 pm||9 am - 4.30 pm||9 am - 5.30 pm||Day off|