Why Don't Employers Offer More Flexible Arrangements?

Everyone recognises that offering employees more flexibility in terms of their working hours and location can make them happier and more productive, but it often doesn't happen. What's getting in the way? According to experts, rusted-on business habits and inflexible pay systems.

Picture by Frank Hebbert

I attended a panel discussion on the changing workplace environment in Australia yesterday. We've already mentioned one interesting nugget from that event: a reminder that even when you're pay $160,000 a year, you won't necessarily attract someone to a job. Pay alone may not be enough any more.

So if everyone wants to offer more flexibility to attract the best staff, why doesn't it happen more often? One reason might be that existing systems simply aren't set up to cope. If your employer relies on paper timesheets, offering people the option to work from home can be an issue. "As we try and attract a workforce in terms of mobility, how we get information to the business from those locations is a challenge," Craig Osborne, local MD for Sage MicrOpay, pointed out.

Sure, it's not hard to have a payroll system that doesn't use paper at all, but many businesses are reluctant to change existing systems, even though that's a stupidly short-term view. "Unless employers start to embrace these tools, their cost of employing peopleis going to go up," Osborne said.

Employers have also been reluctant to change their existing view of employing people to fill a specific defined position, rather than defining business outcomes and then matching them to available resources. "Rather than jobs, you have to talk about roles and how to fill those roles," said Daniel Sheahan, general manager for ComOps.

Technology has made workplace flexibility more appealing, since many white-collar jobs don't require much more than a phone, a PC and an Internet connection. However, the shift away from traditional lifetime employment roles predates that shift. "30 years ago, people started becoming loyal to their profession," said Matthew Franceschini, CEO of Entity Solutions. "Employers need to adapt their policies to remain competitive." Franceschini argues that the modern workplace often works rather like a movie set: a large group of skilled individuals work together on a project, but then move on.

With a movie, there's a clearly defined outcome, which is often a problem with other jobs. If your traditional measure of productivity (and base for payment) is hours worked, how can you shift that? Franceschini pointed out that a job which doesn't have any measurable outputs other than hours worked might actually be a pointless job.

There are some obvious limits on this kind of flexibility. If you're a bus driver, for instance, you obviously can't work from home, and working on limited contracts won't necessarily be effective or practical. However, that doesn't mean you couldn't have flexible work arrangements in other ways: more flexible rostering arrangements, for instance.

How well does your current employer handle requests for flexibility, and is it something you'd consider before taking a new job? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.


    Flexibility? whats that?

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted

    My current employer is quite flexible as I'm casual - I only get paid for the hours that I work, and as long as the job gets done they're fine with me coming in and leaving whenever. Of course being a good and efficient worker this means I end up getting paid less than I could be getting ... :--]

    My next job will be taken on the basis of how it progresses my career. My thresholds for pay, location and other considerations are pretty easygoing - but if it doesn't advance my career somehow, I'm not interested.

    Just the other side of the coin here. Im an Employer.

    We are flexible and we get milked for it constantly.

    Have a doctors appointment - No problems go to it. Do employees make up time " you have to be joking"

    We have flexible hours - ie employees turn up late and go home on the dot.


    I pay 20% over MKT rate and I'm flexible as hell yet still get screwed over. Gen Y need to understand that you have to have skills to be employed and to get ahead not because you "THINK" you are worth it.

    Had an employee come to me saying he can only work 5 hours a day rather than 7.5. Ok I should be able to swing that. Then next sentence - Oh I want a 20k plus super pay rise. Why? because as I'm only going to be working 5 hours a day i will need more take home pay as i will probalby spend more in my off time. WTF??

    GEN Y you have NO idea

      A little bit rough making a comment like that about all Gen Y'ers... I am not really sure if I fall into that category or Gen X as I am 27 however it still hits close to home.

      "Back in the day we used to work 60 hours a week with no holidays" doesn't cut it anymore in my books, we are paying less people to do more work. In an IT driven world the Gen X and the Gen Y excel... what would employers choice a baby boomer who is there everyday but works at a snails place or a younger generation employee who is exceptional at their job and wants a better work life balance? You decide. Please note this is not an attack on an entire generation like your above post as there are some excellent older workers but just my observation.

      Flexibility doesn't mean getting screwed over - if it bothers you so much pull your employees into line. There needs to be limits and if you don't enforce them then unlucky that's your fault!.

      On Subject:

      My work has little or no flexibility as we are rather large, and this is one of my main complaints. Sure they pay well however I go over and beyond what my job requires (lots of free out of hours work, travel in my own personal time etc). because it is expected, I will willing get paid less if I had better options such as working from home even just a day a week or 4 x 10 hour days instead of 5 8 hour days.

      When I leave my job it will be primarily for these reasons... no matter how much they pay I still want to be able to enjoy my life while I am still young.

        I know its a bit rough but I actually find that the so called computer literate Gen Y's arnt Computer literate. They know how to update facebook but if I ask them to use Excel and manipilate some data. Unless I have a formal training session cant work anything out for themselves.

        I'm a Gen X. Got a job in an Accounting firm when I was 21 and pointed to a computer and said can you work that out. I didnt know shit from clay but at least didnt think I did. Found some manuals, read them, worked out how this programming language worked ( that was specific to accounting ) with no training and setup the firm of 50 and trained them.

        I get stuff from my employees like. My spreadsheet is adding up can you call tech support. WTF . see you put the sheet in manual calc mode not automatic.

        One guy couldnt work out how to lock the door to the filing room till I showed him he was twisting the handle the wrong way.

        Where has common sense gone

      It sucks that you're getting screwed over. Hire better people. There are plenty of us out here who are willing to work our asses off, be loyal to the company, get the job done and appreciate the flexibility the company offers without trying to cheat or get away with anything.

        Skinhead, it sounds like you are the one who lacks common sense, you are employing lazy idiots. That is your fault, not Generation Y's.

        I feel your pain; I’m under 30 years old and work for a small business, we are constantly looking for good staff and am amazed at the quality of people and their expectations. Most of the young staff that I’ve seen is shocking as in they want to know why they should work for the company, they believe they are worth 1 million dollars but know absolutely nothing but say they know everything.

        I’ve only recently started helping out with interviews for my department and I’m speechless and never realised what idiot’s people can be. I hate to say it I’m with Skinhead on this one (ask me 12 months ago and you might have gotten another answer from me though, it’s been a real eye opener the last year since getting involved more with the back end of the business).

        Back on topic and also knowing more history on other fellow workers/ex workers.. I’m our business we have had nothing but issues trying to grow we can’t afford to open new branches/offices just yet and have tried shared offices as well as work from home in other states, we have had nothing but issues and dramas as people seem to abuse it because you can’t keep an eye on them.

        Most staff seem to start off well for the first 3-6months then they get lazy work performance drops, you start catching them out (eg, not answering phones during office hours, sleeping in longer than they should be, surprise visits my manager has done with various people find them in PJ’s or eating breakfast close to lunch time… just stupid things like that, at times fine but these are suppose to be sales people that visit customers work from home and they are not prepared, using office hours to get dressed, eat breakfast, laze around the house, probably watching TV..etc..etc.. it’s just crazy and I don’t know the solution as with a small business you can’t afford to micro-manage everyone all the time.

        Having said all that my employer is super flexible with me if I have doctors, dentist appointments, personal issues (eg, house matters..etc..etc.) It’s never been an issue. He knows I will never abuse him and I’m a hard worker. I make sure I complete my work and stay back if I have to I don’t expect extra pay for it, at times if it’s quiet I can take longer lunches..etc. I believe we have a good relationship and it works well. People that go home at 5pm on the dot I don’t agree with and believe you should look for another job as let’s be honest you are not enjoying your work you are just there for the pay/money… Find something you enjoy in life and can put the passion into, you will feel great and your employer will also feel great about having you on board and will be allot more likely to be looked after well. If you treat your company/boss as a source of income expect them to treat you the same!

        Skinhead, I feel your pain.
        Ive got 30 people under me and each and everyone I have to manage differently. They each have individual needs to be catered to to get the best performance out of them.
        I have to be completely flexible with all of them to get t he best work out of them. . . but youre right, you get nothing in return.

      Don't blame the kids, blame the parents.

    O.M.G.. my employer..my manager more so.. I need to call before 9am if i am going to be even 1 minute past 9. I need to e-mail him to tell him if i am taking a half hour lunch break or hour lunch break and what time im leaving, also with how i am planning on making up the time i may have come a couple of minutes late or if i have taken a longer lunch. I was given a written warning for taking a day off before a 1 month holiday as my passport name and ticket name did not match. This was not a good enough reason and i was and still am being punished for it. Considering i had 55 annual days leave, which i never took! So.. who wants to come work with me?

      Stan if you have not got a history of getting to work late and leaving early often, taking sick days, taking long lunches or if you are getting paid a high wage I would say it’s time to look for a new job.

        Totally agree!

          I'm in the same boat, Stan. Most recently, I required a medical note for a 2+ day absence, per department policy. First note: not good enough, doc didn't use the right words. Second note: the doc got the dates wrong, although they were correct on the first note. Third note: "but it only says 'medical leave', it doesn't say you were too sick to work! Absence not excused! You will be docked 3 days pay!". And yes, "If you come in one minute past 9am without calling, you will get a written warning," was in there too. You bet I'm looking. I still have about 14 days of annual leave left, and typically worked more than 40 hours a week until these shenanigans began, and now they get 40 on the dot and I RUN out of there at 5:46, which includes of course my required 45 minute lunch break. HA! I haven't ever run into such childish management tactics in the IT industry. Last I recall running into them was when I worked at Luna Park as a teenager. Already a half dozen of his staff have left, and before long all he'll have left are whatever friends he manages to bring in.

          I'm of Fei's mindset. I'd rather my employer pay me for results than presenteeism. If I am not being productive, I want to go let off some steam at the gym or take a stroll, get a change of scenery or maybe just get out of a workplace that is temporarily chaotic due to another project going on, and then come back refreshed and work until it's done. Under every employer for whom I've worked in the past 15 years, that has been the accepted practice. If they have the choice of an employee at 70% or an employee at 100%, for a task that is not required to be done at a particular date and time, the employer is realistic enough to understand that workers are NOT always at 100% at a specific hour during the business day and would rather have the employee do it later, when it will take less time and perhaps be done at a higher quality level.

          The cult of presenteeism is something new to me as an IT worker, and I'm actually somewhat concerned that I will develop an OCD illness out of all of the clock paranoia that management is trying to instill in workers.

    It's all a factor of this "I should be paid more for doing less" mentality. Fscking retarded current Gen IMO, and it'll probably end up sending the country broke, until they realise they actually need to do some work to generate an income.
    Where you have a team environment it's pretty much mandatory that people turn up on the dot, and work the period they're supposed to. As soon as you get the coming and going when one pleases all of a sudden the wheels fall off and nothing gets done.
    Flexi time originated from bloody public servants, not the real world. My customer couldn't give a flying f*ck what you feel like sleeping in for, they want the product they've ordered. Customer satisfaction should be a businesses #1 priority. Strange relationship that, you run out of customers all of a sudden you have no income.

    My employer has fairly flexible working arrangements - we can start/finish when we like, and work from home, with the proviso that people are in the office when meetings are scheduled (generally between 10-4), and everyone on the same team tends to arrange to work at home on the same day - for my team, that's Thursday, so the office is probably fairly empty today. We also have self-managed (unrecorded) flex time, so if you work an hour extra on Monday and leave an hour earlier on Friday, nobody's going to mind, as long as you let your teammates know when your usual schedule changes.

    Nominally we're supposed to work 37.5 hours a week, but some people work more, others less - the key factor is that the work gets done and the project runs to schedule. If you are slipping behind schedule, it's your responsibility to let the team lead know early on and to discuss options as to whether the release is delayed, or you work extra to make up for it.

    If there was anyone who slacked off, they'd be noticed fairly quickly, in that tasks assigned to them were consistenly running late without good reason. Luckily we've never really encountered that sort of person!

    I'm fairly happy where I am, but the pay is pretty much on the average, so I've had colleagues leave purely because they wanted a higher salary to pay of mortgages etc, even though they were quite happy with the job conditions and the work itself - their reason for leaving was purely the money. In my personal situation, I'm happy with my salary, and I love the flexible working arrangements, hence I'm sticking around :)

      I recently left a job for much the same reasons as you friends. While the additional money is great, I've also taken a hit of commuting and additional two hours a day. In some ways, I regret my choice as work/life balance makes a massive difference. I appreciate it that much more now that I've decided to take a hit in that deparment.

      I can see you are flat out working hard at the moment? I guess you are getting paid to read Lifehacker and post comments during your business time at home? Hahaha, this is what we found with home staff as well and the longer people did it the less work seemed to get done.. I think it’s just too easy for people to get distracted at home and unless you are a very strong person you will fall into the trap of I’ll just ‘quickly’ read the news, lifehacker, tv guide… woops is that the news I hear on the TV in the background sounds interesting I’ll just ‘quickly’ see what’s happening..etc.etc..

        "...the key factor is that the work gets done and the project runs to schedule"

        And I guess they don't pay 'you' for reading comprehension.

    Wow. So much hate for Gen Y.

    if you have shitty employees, fire them.

    If you continue to have shitty employees, consider that maybe you're a shitty boss.

      Penmonicus, I can see you do not hire staff by the sounds of things? I also did not until recently (I only help in the process and am an employee my self)… I really think you need to sit through some interviews or hire staff to understand the position the quality of people available is just unbelievable the attitude of (I hate to say it, my generation) is amazing. I don’t understand it and can’t see how people are so arrogant think they are worth so much, demand so much and expect to do so little in return.

      The fact of the matter is some positions in our business we have been trying to find good hard working staff with a bit of experience and it’s just about impossible. I think there is so much jobs available you basically need to sell your company why the person should work for you, and the people that are willing to try the job are just not worth taking on (generally have not had any experience, expect the company to offer training or pay for education of some sort and not willing to sign they will stay with us for 2-4 year contract if we will pay for education… they are just grossly unfair).

      I would never dream of saying or demanding half the stuff I’ve heard in interviews and am honestly appalled by some people’s attitudes. As I said I never realised how tough it was to run a business until I started helping my employer out with the back end.

      I was planning on opening my own business in the next 5-10 years (which I have spoken to my current employer about and he’s happy to help me get some foundations and is partly the reason I’m helping out, he’s been great!). But after spending time and learning some of the Australian laws and how much rights employees have compared to employers it’s frightening and I’m reconsidering opening my own business (I don’t think I will do it).. I might end up being happy working for someone and they can deal with the stress, headaches, issues and other wonders of business.. I will help out but perhaps that’s what I’m learning slowly… Just wanted to share some of my insights I’ve recently started experiencing… If you get the opportunity I would strongly suggest taking it up it’s been a eye opener for me!

    Not that everyone here is doing it, but not EVERY person from Gen Y is an apathetic, spoon fed moron.

    I'm 19, and work in a flexible workplace. If I leave for an hour for a doctors' appointment there's no question that I'll be making up that hour somewhere during that week. Saying that, I have a huge amount of respect for my boss, and this contributes to this mentality at work. If I have to go to work early for whatever reason, my boss just assumes I'll be leaving early or be paid extra for the extra hours.

    On a different note, I believe on quality over quantity. As TSH said, there's no real incentive in most workplaces to finish a project quickly when you can paid more for taking your time. Obviously there are some limitations to this (and it differs depending on your profession), but in general it's true

    "If your traditional measure of productivity (and base for payment) is hours worked, how can you shift that? Franceschini pointed out that a job which doesn’t have any measurable outputs other than hours worked might actually be a pointless job."
    +1, although trying to implement this in the workforce may be tricky.

    Flexibility is a tricky thing. I am in Gen Y and previously was a manager of a team, of that team half i would gladly let work from home and not track their hours but the other half had to keep a eye on as they would coast. Tricky to have arrangements per person unless they have a good reason like new baby etc. I personally am more productive at home but understand why those paying the $$ don't want to provide flexibility.

    I agree not just Gen y either, in a big office you find slackers in all generations.

      Frank, You are 100% correct in that it’s not only Gen Y, thinking back we have had some average older folk come through although I must say the ones that did come through were still a notch better than the younger folk (perhaps it was due to previous work experience? I’m not sure) but they did seem to have more initiative and willing to work things out more logically by them self. We find more young staff we get often desperately need ‘training’ even for the simple tasks like work and excel (even though they are apparently qualified with advanced skills on their resumes)..

      I’m starting to ask allot more questions and not taking people by what they put on the resume, I’m also having to ask/do simple tests and the lies and bull they spin I find incredible. I do believe the older people in general seem allot more honest if they don’t know something they have generally said so. (as I said I’ve not been doing it for long but this is just the short experience I’ve had in the last year or so). I’m also a few years short of 30 so am rather embarrassed by these details but it’s sadly the truth in my experience.

    Alex, it’s really great to see a 19 year old with a work ethic like yours, as you can tell from my previous posts I’m not as young as you but still have a few years before I hit 30 still… Well done on your outlook and I wish you all the best. I’ve lost allot of faith in people (and perhaps society of recently since trying to help out in the small business I work at)… So just really good to hear people like us are still around! (or are you really a 40 year old? ROFL, kidding!)

    On another side note I use to be flat against the old work choices but the more I learn about business and work with staff and look at my own roll the more I think it’s a more fair system as business then have the power to offer you the extra incentive/pay if you do you are willing to work well and put in the extra efforts required… They also are not forced to offer the same package/conditions to all slack workers as they do for you which I really think is great as some staff we’ve had I recon they should not have got even half of what they did but legally they ‘deserve’ it somehow!

    The simple fact is that the vast majority of people (of any generation) need to have someone keeping tabs on them. If they don't, productivity slows. It's unfair to assume a line manager will be happy to further expand their own work hours (I was working 75+ hours every week for nearly four years) just to accommodate a staff member who wants to work irregular hours.

    I'm a Gen Y and I run my business on a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Essentially, you get to do whatever you want, whenever you want so long as you achieve your results on time. And yes, my other Gen-Y staff cope very well in this environment too.

    Staff aren't tied to a desk - they are given laptops and mobiles. If they want to work at a cafe for the day (I have a few times), then they just tether from their phones. All issues about time off for x or y get's thrown out of the equation because it's not about the amount of hours you spend at the office, it's the role you're fulfilling in the business. Get that done and there's no reason why the company should dictate how you spend your time.


        Status quo at man firms especially consultancies. Not necessarily SMART. More RISKY and the success of ROWE/Maverick/anything similar is very closely linked to the efficacy of your hiring.

        ROWE is an American concept and it's a lot easier to say "sorry Jenny, age anything, you're fired because under ROWE your productivity is bottom tier. Whats that? You want everyone in the office with you for daily social uplift & camaraderie and nobody is there to banter with? Bad luck get out" in American (god bless them!).. Can't do that in Australia. Have to help poor Jenny along.

          The social aspect is good point. I've worked in other organisations with ROWE and I find that most staff still work in the office. They have the option to not be there but they still work "normal hours" because it falls in line with their partner/friends/family's schedule. They prefer to work when their friends/family work so when they are free, they will be too.

          Also, people end up actually "working" at work - rather than just being there... or so goes the theory. I find if I'm not being productive in the office, I just go home until I feel like being productive again and then pick up where I left off at home. Sometimes I get my best work done at 2am and I'm glad to know that I'm not expected to be in the office the next day.

          There are pros and cons and I admit it's not for everyone.

    Employers mistake flexibility for chaos, people want order.

    Flexibility can lead to unpredictability this means it is hard to forecast deadlines for projects / deliverables / clients, hard to get a handle on capacity, and if people are unavailable at short notice it means their colleagues have to pick up the slack. This is disruptive which in turn often harms productivity.
    Flexibility also makes it hard to have an ordered plan / workplace.
    Flexibility isn't all bad, it just has a price.

    The other thing I forgot to mention at the time of my last comment is one simple thing, Awards. Quite often flexibility comes at the price of overtime, callout rates, and other penalties geared against employees working flexible hours.

    SO.. I am putting the final touches on a uni assignment on this very subject, and had a bit of a laugh at some of these comments. Giving some of the commenters a hard time because they are on lifehacker during the day just makes it clear you base an employees performance on "presenteeism". I read this site whilst eating lunch during the day, some of my guys read it in the morning when they come in. I don't care what they do as long as they deliver the results.

    I am 30 and have been in the IT industry since leaving school. I find that in most of my roles the more I am left alone the more I will get done and the better I performed. I had a boss who gave me a written warning for being 20 minutes late (Really stormy morning that caused huge traffic issues all over sydney) and I quit a week later. I can't work for someone who doesn't respect me, and it is not fair to me or my colleagues (who also got warnings that morning).

    When managing my own teams I tailor the policies to match the teams and the work. If your staff are able to work remote you have to ask can you measure their success. iiNet for instance have a vast amount of their call centre staff working from home, they cant slack off as the numbers will show there is an issue. If you have employees who you cant trust to work from home the issue is going to be that they are not focused or your not giving them enough work and guidance.

    I should be clear, there is no evidence that this is an age related thing. I think younger people who lack experience need more guidance to learn more skills, and often that is going to be difficult when they work remote but you should be able to negotiate with your staff working conditions that suit them. A great example is one company I worked at in my early 20's never bothered me with my working hours, I would arrive at the office at 10am and leave at 5 after taking a hours break. I did this because I would get home at 6 and jump on the computer for a few more hours. I never winged about working late, or being woken at 3am for support and I never counted the overtime or hours owed when I worked weekends and nights doing system changes. My boss trusted me, I was available 24/7 and he saw the results from my work. In short I was accountable.

    Major corporations are starting to embrace this, but the real challenges have nothing to do with the staff's age. It comes down to matching the employees needs with the employers needs. If the employer needs a coder to work on a project, then who cares where he works as long as the work gets done. If the work needs communication, meetings etc etc it becomes another measurable metric.

    It is also worth pointing out that issues around staff wanting to drop their hours and get more money are just that the employee has no grasp on reality. Does the employer share the companies needs with them? Do they get it?? Often its not the fault of the employee!

    There is a good journal article by Tanya Bretherton which covers some of the challenges and how they can be addressed, I would suggest you look for it on Google Academic.

    I dont have time to proof read this brain dump so I will leave it for the grammar police to jump on.. :)

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