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Managing in a Flexible Work Environment

Extracts from a July 2012 Paper by the Australian Institute of Management


ICA Introduction and comment:

The Australian Institute of Management has produced an excellent discussion paper on flexible work. Below are extracts from the paper. (Headings inserted by ICA). But the paper only approaches work from the perspective of large organizations and that misses 70 per cent of the Australian workforce. That is, the paper is only relevant for the 15 per cent of the workforce that work in medium to large private-sector businesses and the 15 per cent of the workforce who work in the public sector. For people in small business the issues are quite different! See here for a more detailed ICA commentary.

Extracts from the Paper

No commitment?

A major challenge to implementing flexible work is attitudinal. Business owners or senior executives may perceive that flexible work arrangements are associated with a lack of commitment to the organisation.

The ideal worker?

Research shows that underlying this attitude is a set of assumptions about the idea of the “ideal worker”: someone who is able to work full time, and to be solely committed to their job, because they are supported by someone outside the workplace who attends to their non-work needs.

Such a worker may have been the norm in the past, but this is no longer the case. Work is no longer neatly contained between set hours. Workers have a multiplicity of non-work responsibilities and interests which they seek to balance against their work roles.

Nevertheless, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, the “ideal worker” continues to shape expectations in the workplace

Self-control and productivity

On the other hand, research has established a positive relationship between workplace flexibility arrangements that give employees greater control over when they work, where they work and how they work, and employee health, well-being, satisfaction and engagement. These improved employee outcomes are then seen to convert to improved workplace productivity, financial performance and client outcomes.


Of interest to AIM as we undertake the next stage of this research is the relationship between innovative flexible work arrangements and organisational innovation. Does an adaptive workplace environment … facilitate adaptive or innovative thinking? What kind of management approach is required in this context?

Flexible work is core

We believe that flexible work arrangements should be at the core of how Australian organisations do business. Equipping managers with the necessary skills and providing them with guidance on how to effectively apply these skills in a flexible work environment is one important step towards mainstreaming flexible work in Australian workplaces. In this Green Paper we identify some of these necessary skills and discuss how they might be put into practice.

  • How to manage effectively as a manager on flexible work arrangements,
  • How to manage effectively staff in an organisation with flexible work arrangements in place.


For example, employers may fear that flexibility will mean:

  • Added complexity
  • Increased costs  
  • Reduced commitment to, or focus on, the job  
  • Radical changes to workplace culture.


These are genuine issues to be managed. However, there are also potential advantages to increased flexibility, including:

  • Enhanced talent management such as retention of key staff
  • Improved recruitment, especially where competitors do not offer any flexibility
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Options to increase and decrease the workforce to match demand
  • Increased sustainability for the organisation
  • Reduced need for office space
  • Options to engage highly skilled workers who the organisation could not afford full time
  • Opportunity for leadership within the industry.

While facilitating flexibility may have direct costs, such as investment in technology, organisations that have trialled flexible work options often report a positive return on investment, improved staff performance or a significant competitive advantage.

Flexible options is an important feature in a workplace for both employees and potential employees as it offers the opportunity to:

  • Help manage non-work demands, such as child care responsibilities
  • Follow non-work interests, such as sport and hobbies
  • Engage with the community, for example through volunteering
  • Carry out their work in ways which suit their personal work style
  • Achieve a better work/life balance.


Some employees, however, are familiar with the downside of flexibility, including:

  • Lower pay - either less pay overall or lower hourly rates or both
  • Less predictable or anti-social hours, such as irregular shifts
  • Exclusion from training, development and promotional opportunities
  • Lack of support from colleagues, managers and clients.

Changed society

 … changes in society, the workplace operates to a large degree on the stereotype (that people are) able to work full time, and to be solely committed to their job, because they are supported by someone outside the workplace who attends to all their non-work needs. The cliché of the full time bread-winner husband and home-maker wife is now uncommon in the real world, but in subtle and often unconscious ways continues to shape expectations in the workplace. Until this assumption is challenged, flexible work may be perceived as a curiosity, privilege, nuisance or unnecessary cost.

How managers can cope

(Refer to the rest of the paper for tips on how managers can cope with and manage a flexible work environment)

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