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New research has found that flexible working hours and work/life balance are the secret to retaining staff


Over a third of Australian employers believe that offering staff flexible work arrangements is the best way stop them searching out alternative employment.

According to figures released by Australian workplace relations specialist Employsure, employers found that work-life balance ranks highest for staff retention, overshadowing pay rises and training.

Edward Mallett, Managing Director of Employsure, says, “Our research clearly shows that staff often need to organise working hours around family commitments and they appreciate the opportunity to do so. This is seen as more compelling for staff retention than remuneration, training, and often costly enticements such as staff events.”

More time over more money

The survey polled 461 SMBs and the findings put staff retention in the spotlight at a time when, according to recent statistics from consultancy firm Accenture, one in five employed Australians are looking for a new role at any given time.

“What is the best method for retaining staff?” they asked. 37 per cent said flexible working arrangements while only 21 per cent cited pay increases and bonuses.

Keeping staff happy should be a focus for SMEs, Edward says, as replacing people is costly and time-consuming. “Costs can add up with recruitment advertising, and there’s so much time invested to hire and train new employees. If it’s a sudden departure, other staff need to step in for their colleague, compromising their own workload.”

“Considering our new research, employers should approach requests for flexible working arrangements with an open mind. Addressing this real-world issue will help managers retain staff and make their workplace more desirable to new recruits.”

Edward cites recently published research by recruiter Robert Walters that found four in 10 professionals turn down jobs that fail to offer flexible working arrangements.

Managing flexible working requests

Edward says that while positive gains can be made from offering flexible working hours to staff, employers should understand that rejecting requests for special arrangements could land them in hot water.

“This is not simply a management issue,” he says. “There is a serious side to the picture.”

“Permanent employees are entitled to apply for flexible working arrangements if they have been with the company for 12 months and: are the parent or primary carer for school-aged or younger children; are a carer; have a disability; are 55 or older; are experiencing family or domestic violence or they provide care or support to someone in their household or immediate family who are victims of family or domestic violence.

“Their requests can only be denied if there are reasonable business grounds to support this decision. For example, the cost to the company, the impact on other staff or any equipment needed to fulfil the task away from the workplace, and so on.”

For those employees who are not officially entitled to flexible work arrangements, businesses still have to comply with current legislation that prevents discrimination against employees because of certain characteristics such as race, religion and marital status.

This means employers should consider the reason for any request for flexible working hours carefully and ensure they treat all employees equally and fairly.

Edward Mallett’s tips to retaining staff

If you agree to a request for flexible working hours, be clear the arrangement is subject to review if conditions within the business change. Regularly review how the employee and business are faring with the arrangement in place.

It’s important to balance the needs of the employer and employee with flexible arrangements. If an employer cannot accommodate a request, they should have a proactive discussion with the staff member to find a compromise that works for both parties.

Remuneration is an essential tool in holding onto staff. Let employees know when pay rises will occur and be sure they understand bonus structures. Implement a clear framework to assess performance and communicate this clearly.

Autonomy is key to staff retention – employees want to feel in control of the work they are performing and have a voice in how they perform their work. Include staff in problem solving and give them the opportunity to develop creative solutions to problems or issues the business is facing.

Offer training where appropriate but, if staff attend off-site courses, have an agreement in place that states payment for training is effectively a loan. This should be paid back by the employee if they leave the company within a certain time after the course is completed.