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Flexible Working Arrangements – The Future of the Workforce

Published June 27, 2014 (last updated June 24, 2020) -
Older Male Employee Smiling At Camera

Participation in the workforce of people aged 55 and over has risen dramatically over the last 12 years. In the past, men and women over the age of 55 tended to retire early, however this trend has completely reversed, demonstrated by the participation rate of men aged 65 plus rising to 16% in January 2014. In addition, the participation rate of women aged 55 to 59 has risen to 42.5% in January 2014.

People aged 55 and over are more likely to have carer’s responsibilities, whether it be taking care of people with disabilities, grandchildren or their elderly parents. As a result, employers must understand their obligations in relation to flexible working arrangements as set out under the Fair Work Act 2009 and explore strategies on how to ensure their business can operate whilst affording employees a flexible workplace.

Impact of flexible working arrangements on SMEs

The National Employment Standards provide a right for certain employees to request flexible working arrangements, including but not limited to, employees aged 55 or older, employees who have carer’s responsibilities and employees who have the responsibility for the care of a child under school age or child under 18 with a disability.

Employees other than casuals who have had at least 12 months of continuous service may request flexible working arrangements. Casual employees who have served at least 12 months of continuous service on a regular and systematic basis and who have an expectation of continuing employment on a regular and systematic basis may also request flexible working arrangements.

An employer can only refuse a request on reasonable business grounds. Employers must be wary of refusing flexible work requests as an employee may have grounds for an adverse action claim or discrimination claim.

Therefore, this can present SMEs with many challenges, including managing workloads, rosters and ensuring productivity whilst affording flexible work arrangements. However, a flexible workplace can also bring many benefits to SMEs, including:

  • Increased employee engagement
  • Increased productivity
  • Attracting and retaining high quality staff and in turn, saving on costs associated with training new staff
  • Creating a better workplace culture
  • Reducing employee stress
  • Reducing unplanned absenteeism
  • Providing new options for the business, including the ability to cover peak demand times, as well as being open for longer or different hours.

The future of the workforce

Older age brackets are being encouraged to stay in the workforce longer due to an ageing population and increased incentives. Many people who are older are wanting to keep active and keep involved in the workforce. Whilst employers may face challenges with adopting a flexible workplace, employers can benefit from a largely skilled older workforce.

Should you require assistance with approving or refusing flexible working arrangements, please contact the Advice line.

By Sam Martinic, Employment Relations Consultant

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