Flexible Work and Workplaces.

Research has shown that both organisations and workers can benefit from flexibility of working arrangements if they are designed in ways that best meet the varied commitments, responsibilities and circumstances of working lives. Anecdotally of course, the impact of COVID 19 has brought into sharp relief the potential benefits of flexible work practices such as working from home, working online and/or using flexitime for both workers and organisations. But it has also shown us how everyone's personal circumstances are different, and that the impacts of different working arrangements on workers are gendered. Flexibility and innovative thinking is needed when designing 'non-standard' and flexible work arrangements if we are to create work arrangements that enhance our well-being and health.

This section is designed to give you some basic information about requesting and navigating flexible arrangements in your workplace. It links to our Gender Equity Vision Objective 3, that will will work towards a time when:

Wāhine are able to participate in our union, tertiary education institutions and society on their terms through the valuing of different leadership styles; the creation of workspaces wāhine feel comfortable in; and the facilitation of working patterns that fit with the varied lives of wāhine.

The facts

  • Part 6AA of the Employment Relations Act 2000 provides staff the right to request flexible work arrangements and sets out the criteria for handling formal requests for flexibility. More information can be found on the New Zealand Law Society Website. This legislation protects your right to request flexible working arrangements and requires organisations to respond to your request. It does not protect your right to access flexible working arrangements and employers can deny your request on business grounds.

  • There are many reasons why you might want to request a flexible work arrangement, common examples include:
    • where family responsibilities would be assisted by flexible hours
    • where travel time would be significantly shortened
    • where the arrangement will better meet your team’s and/or member needs
    • where you have a regular study, sporting or cultural commitment on a particular day

  • There are some key principles for managing flexible working arrangements successfully:
    • Flexible working arrangements should work for your employer, your working group and you as an employee - arrangements that don’t work for all three may not be sustainable in the long term.
    • Communicate - flexibility works well if there is good communication.
    • Keep it open - often it is useful to start with a trial of the flexible arrangements that can be extended, adapted, or halted, depending on how well it works. When requesting a flexible work arrangement, make sure you are explicit about this - request a temporary change with fixed review and/or end-dates unless you are sure you want to make permanent changes to your working arrangements.
    • Request regular reviews with your manager to ensure the arrangement continues to work for everyone.
Making a formal request for a flexible work arrangement

A formal request for a flexible work arrangement should be done in writing and would normally be given to the relevant manager in the first instance. The request should include:

  • your name, the date that you submit the written request and that the request is made under 6AA of the Employment Relations Act 2000.
  • details about the flexible work arrangement that you are requesting (relevant details are likely to include days of work, start and finish times, location of work etc.).
  • whether you are requesting a permanent change to your work arrangements or a change for a fixed period of time.
  • the date that you would like the flexible work arrangement to start, and if it is for a fixed period of time, when you would like it to end.
  • in your view, what changes (if any) your employer will need to make if your request is approved

Common flexible work arrangements

Flexible work encompasses a range of arrangements relating to your hours, days and location of work. Examples of common flexible work arrangements include (but are not limited to):

  • changes to your usual work hours,
  • part-time hours,
  • job-sharing and,
  • working from home.

Your responsibilities and usual performance standards should not generally change under a flexible work arrangement. The exception to this is if your hours either increase or decrease in which case your agreed workload should be commensurate with your new hours. When making a request for any type of flexible work arrangement, good communication with your manager is key.

Change to your work pattern

You may wish to request to change your daily or weekly work pattern. This may include irregular hours, earlier or later start and finish times or varied start and finish times to fulfil your agreed full-time or part-time hours.

Staff working a changed work pattern should expect to undertake their normal responsibilities and conditions of employment, and that remuneration and benefits will not be affected unless otherwise negotiated. You may wish to request that consideration to your work arrangements is made in planning workplace meetings and other work events. However, there might also be times when a manager wishes you to vary your agreed hours so that you can attend meetings, complete tasks on time, or meet student needs. Talk to your manager when making the request about how these times might be dealt with.

Working from home

Working from home (WFH) may assist with reducing travel time or meeting whānāu or other commitments outside of work.

A flexible arrangement to work from home should not result in a change to your employment status or job responsibilities, unless your request to work from home is combined with a request to change your work hours, work role or work pattern.

Working from home requires trust, good self-management and strategies/techniques to maintain relationships with your manager and colleagues across your work team. As part of your request and planning to work from home discuss with your manager the opportunities for maintaining excellent communication when not in the office.

Working from home H&S checklist

Your employer and you have a shared responsibility for ensuring health and safety while working from home. Make sure you discuss how health and safety issues will be managed when you are working from home.

  • Make sure that you will be able to work in a comfortable and sustainable position that will reduce the risk of discomfort and injury. This might also mean mixing it up, and working at different locations and in different positions during the day.
  • Be mindful about your physical health and wellbeing by regularly taking breaks, getting up and moving around.
  • Make sure that any electrical equipment and wiring you are using is safe, and that plugs and cables are not worn. You might want to think about using a surge protector like a multi-box
  • Make sure you have plans for an emergency. For example, access to exits, cover during an earthquake, emergency contacts etc.
  • Report any hazards or incidents that impact on your wellbeing, health, safety and security while working through your workplace's health and safety reporting system;
  • Identify and manage any work-related risks and hazards.
  • Ensure work papers are kept confidential.
Part time work

Part time arrangements may include:

  • reduced number of days each week;
  • reduced number of hours in the work day (but a schedule should be agreed which suits both you and your employer); and
  • working alternate days or weeks.

The workload should be commensurate with the hours worked, although (as for any role) there may be occasions where you need to work additional or varied hours according to workload. When you are requesting this flexible working arrangement, talk to your manager about how this might be managed.

Job sharing

Job sharing operates when two part-time staff share one full time position. In a job-share, key responsibilities are generally not divided and both staff members are familiar with, and perform all the tasks associated with the role. This type of arrangement requires a high level of communication and cooperation between the two parties and also with other colleagues in the workplace.

Generally, job-share staff should work consecutive days and may or may not have any overlap in their hours of work. Working alternate weeks might also be an option. Each parties' workload should be commensurate with the hours worked but will equate to one full time role between them. As much as possible the job-share holders should share tasks, and be able to liaise with all colleagues, members and external parties.

Job-sharing works best when the two individuals know each other well and work in similar ways. Good communication between them, their manager and support staff is essential. With agreement, the job-sharers may cover any absences of the other staff member.

Employers in the tertiary education sector may not be very knowledgeable or experienced in managing workers in a job-sharing arrangement so they may need a bit more convincing that this sort of arrangement can work. Be well prepared and think through all of the potential reservations that a manager might have before making this request.

External resource sites

Flexibility by default

'Flexibility by default' is an approach that has been taken up by many public agencies in Aotearoa New Zealand. It means shifting from asking “Why should a role be flexible?” to “Why not?”. Find out about this approach on the Te Kawa Mataaho, Public Service Commission

International approaches to flexible work

The TUC, Trades Union Congress (the British version of our Council of Trade Unions (https://union.org.nz/) released a report on the future of flexible work in June of 2021. Take a look here.