Typical misgivings about flexible working

Works for me. Works for NSW. Flexible WorkingEmployees and their managers sometimes express concerns about what flexible work is, how it works, who it is for, and what its benefits are. Some of these concerns reflect the minimal awareness-raising that their agencies have done to date about flexible working availability, and some are dilemmas to be worked through.

Here are some commonly expressed concerns - we’ve matched each with information on how the concern can be addressed:

  • Misgiving

    Many employees perceive flexible working as referring to the current flex time arrangements, and accessing flexible working just means filling out flex sheets. This contributes to the sentiment that flexible working is not anything new– but something that is already part of working for the public sector.

    In fact

    Flexible working does not equal flex time. Flex time is an employee entitlement that will continue to exist, but flexible working encompasses a broad range of informal and formal arrangements such as flexible hours, remote working, career breaks, compressed weeks, job sharing, flexible rostering and much more.

  • Misgiving

    Technology and systems were consistently identified as the biggest blockers for accessing flexible working in the NSW public sector. Many felt that their agency couldn’t access flexible working until all the necessary systems and technology were put in place.

    In fact

    Technology can act as a barrier to flexible working for some employees and ongoing work is required across the sector to make improvements. Employees are still encouraged to begin a conversation with their manager about what is possible with the current technology – whether a work around is available, or another type of flexible working.

  • Misgiving

    Many public sector employees felt that flexible working was only permissible for certain reasons (e.g. to look after children or for further study), with many believing their life circumstances were not ‘enough’ to grant them access to flexible working. This leads to a perception of unfairness.

    In fact

    The approach of “if not, why not” democratises and mainstreams flexible working so that it is no longer solely for employees with certain life circumstances. Everyone is able to begin a conversation about what flexible working is open to them, regardless of the reason for why they are seeking it.

  • Misgiving

    There is a perception across the sector that flexible working is only applicable for certain types of roles, usually those that are office-based, and not for service delivery roles such as teachers, nurses and transport workers, where the job requires employees to engage directly with the public at certain times.

    In fact

    While employees in service delivery roles may not be able to work from home, there are other flexible working arrangements that may be available such as job sharing or flexible rostering. Context matters; what flexible working looks like for a teacher, for example, may not be the same for a policy worker, but it’s still flexible working.

  • Misgiving

    Public sector employees indicated that managers and leaders continue to place strong value on full-time face time and the ‘old public sector thinking’ of needing to see an employee to know they’re working. Some managers and leaders were concerned flexible working would impact on productivity and ability to deliver outcomes.

    In fact

    Full time face-to-face is not the most productive way of working for everyone. Performance can be measured through outcomes rather than presenteeism and managers and leaders should feel empowered to trust their teams. Face-to-face time is still valuable and flexible working can be built around this. 

  • Misgiving

    A strong fear for many participants is that accessing flexible working will have a negative impact on their careers or be perceived as laziness. Alternately, they also worried that their team working flexibly could result in having to take on more work to “pick up the slack”.

    In fact

    There are many successful leaders in the public sector who are accessing flexible work, or who have been promoted while working flexibly. Flexible working is a team-based conversation, requiring consideration of how everyone can access and benefit from it rather than responding ad hoc to individual requests. 

  • Misgiving

    Flexible working is often seen as something employees can only access once they have been in their job working “traditionally 9-5” for a certain period, have built the trust with their teams and proven themselves to their managers.  

    In fact

    Flexible working is not an entitlement or a reward, nor is it a ‘retrofit’ approach to be taken once an employee has worked in their role “traditionally” for a certain period of time. Flexible work can be part of a role’s design upfront and new starters can have the same conversation with their teams regarding flexible working.

  • Misgiving

    When asked “What does flexible working mean?” an overwhelming majority of public sector employees answered working from home and this belief persisted.

    In fact

    Flexible working is about rethinking the where, when and how work can be done. It is more than just working from home and can include flexible hours, remote working, career breaks, compressed weeks, job sharing, study leave, flexible rostering and much more.

Unless these misgivings are addressed, they can become stumbling blocks that discourage agencies and employees from considering flexible working.

Agencies are free to use this page and its graphics in their communication to employees about flexible work. For more help with communication resources contact flexible.working@psc.nsw.gov.au