Making it work
Based on their experience, employers provided the following suggestions and advice for managing different flexible work arrangements.
- Work with staff to predict work demands as much as possible so rosters can be designed accordingly.
- Discuss with people what their preferences are, being clear that you will try to accommodate, but can't promise to meet them.
- It is useful to have some core workers working reasonably predictable hours that the roster can be built around - semi permanent rosters.
- Be clear about minimum staffing requirements, in relation to numbers of staff, skill and experience mix. This makes it easier for people to negotiate and organise swapping days.
- It is useful to plan rosters in advance. It gives more predictability for staff and for you. However there is a balance between doing weekend rosters far enough in advance so that people can plan weekend travel or commitments, with having it close enough to the time to minimise last minute changes.
- It is useful to have at least one full time 'anchor' person per shift. It helps provide continuity and stability.
- Check the rosters at the staff meeting each week.
- Work with staff to develop clear protocols for rosters e.g. not working more than six days in a row, two days off together is the norm, optional hours will be shared between interested staff. Employers found this takes time to develop and get agreement on, but the results including reduced absenteeism and ease of finding people to fill rosters, more than make up for it.
- Give everyone (even in other areas) a copy of the roster so everyone knows what is going on.
Flexibility around rosters
- Have clear procedures and principles for doing shift swaps.
- When swapping get people to write down what they have agreed to and have both sign it. This is useful for clarifying agreements, minimising misunderstandings, and helping you sort out any problems later if they occur.
- If there are requests for sudden changes, ask for a bit of space and time to check out all the factors involved to see whether it is possible.
- When you have to turn down a request for a roster change, explain why.
- Talk with the team about unreasonable requests such as not thinking about colleagues, having too many 'turns', cutting someone less assertive out or asking for a day off when it's going to be hectic.
- Be clear when the business needs to be nonnegotiable and when individuals need to be nonnegotiable; for example the staff member who is prepared to work late when asked, except on Thursdays when they have a regular commitment. It is useful to remember and respect that.
I think people would say that I'm fairly cautious with requests. Firstly - in a small workplace such as ours - it can't be assumed that it can happen but I'll do my best. Secondly, I need time and space to organise it. Sometimes the answer is a flat "omigod we can't do that". And then I usually find a way. But finding that way means not assuming that others will welcome the task. So it's important to be creative about the solutions and communicate the progress.
Time-in-lieu is when people who work extra hours can take the equivalent time off later. Sometimes it is done on a casual and informal basis. Other times it is managed quite formally. Employers find it a useful strategy, but one that needs to be managed carefully.
Where does it work? Where doesn't it?
Employers found that time-in-lieu works well when:
- the work does not require specific hours to be covered
- employees are self managing and self motivated
- busy periods are counterbalanced with quieter times when leave can be taken.
It does not work as well for jobs where there is limited scope for taking the time-in-lieu. In these situations it may be better to use over-time, with a budget you can control.
Setting the boundaries
It is useful to set clear boundaries for using time-in-lieu.
Remember that accrued time-in-lieu is a cost to your business. You may want to consider:
- Is there a limit on how much time can be accumulated?
- Is there a limit as to when time-in-lieu can be accumulated? Is it at any time, or is it restricted to specific periods of the year when workloads are high?
- Is there a fixed period in which the time-in-lieu needs to be taken, for example two weeks, a month or a year? This will depend on the nature of your work and how you manage your budget.
- Who can access time-in-lieu? Is it related to specific jobs or to how long people have been working for you?
- How much time can be taken without prior arrangement and approval, e.g. one hour?
- Do you need to limit when it can be used?
- Does it need to be used particularly for short breaks such as a half day or a late start to go to a personal appointment, or can it be used to extend annual holidays or to reduce hours during school holidays?
- Can it be used when there are regular work demands such as evening meetings or would this be better managed by adjusting the working hours on the day?
- Does it need to be used up before annual holidays are taken?
Making it work
To ensure that time-in-lieu works, employers have found it useful to:
- Make sure the boundaries for accumulating and using time-in-lieu are clearly understood by all employees.
- Make sure there is a consistent approach to the use of time-in-lieu across the organisation or a clear rationale as to why it might differ.
- Keep an eye on the amount of time-in-lieu being accumulated. Is it appropriate, or does it suggest that the workloads need to be adjusted or that more staff are necessary? Can your business carry this cost?
- Watch for people coming in unexpectedly or unnecessarily and then claiming for time-in-lieu.
- If you suspect time-in-lieu is being misused, address the issue early.
When are holidays possible?
Managing annual holidays is about balancing the needs of your organisation with the needs and preferences of your employees.
- Make sure you know the rights and responsibilities under the Holidays Act 2003.
- Work with staff to identify any times of the year when work demands mean that leave is difficult except for emergencies. Make sure that new employees know about these times as well.
- Sit down as a team and work out cover for times like school holidays.
- Involve the team in developing rules for managing annual holiday requests over busy periods. For example, one retailer has a rule that only those who need to travel to be with family for Christmas day can have Christmas Eve off.
- Be clear about minimum staffing requirements, in relation to numbers of staff, and skill and experience mix. This makes it easier for example where people might negotiate and/or organise swapping days.
- Encourage people to plan taking annual holidays in advance. Stress that the more notice you are given, the more likely that the request for leave can be agreed. Prompt them to think about things they may want leave for such as religious holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, sports events, arts festivals or periods when they might expect to need a rest (e.g. after a busy spell).
- Encourage people to apply for leave in writing. Document all agreements.
- Use visual representations e.g. wall planners so people can see where there are windows of opportunity for taking annual holidays.
- Be open to people wanting to negotiate additional annual holidays in return for a lower salary.
Make sure that staff use their annual holidays
In some organisations the issue is not about meeting people's leave preferences, instead it is about getting them to take leave. Lots of accumulated annual holidays are not good for your balance sheet, and not good for your employee's health and well-being. It can be useful to:
- Monitor annual holiday balances carefully, with a prompt point to remind you and the employee that leave needs to be planned and taken.
- Monitor stress levels in conjunction with leave balances.
- Encourage people to plan leave periods. Use occasions such as scheduled performance discussions, business planning or anniversaries to prompt action.
For further information
This website has information about the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees under the Holidays Act 2003.
- Make sure you know the rights and responsibilities under the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987.
- Do not assume that people will want to manage having and bringing up children in the same way that you or your family may have done, or may choose to do. They may have different needs, levels of support or range of options. They may have a different approach to their career. Their children may have different needs.
Before they go on parental leave
- When you know a staff member is expecting a child, talk with them about leave options, their rights under the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act (1987) and their preferences.
- Ensure they are familiar with their parental leave rights and responsibilities. Make sure they know how much paid and unpaid parental leave they are entitled to.
- Consider whether the work they do or the environment they work in presents any hazards to their, or their unborn child's, health or safety. Work with them to find ways to remove or reduce these hazards.
- If possible, make a car-park available, so they can attend medical appointments easily.
- Make sure that their job and relevant systems and processes are well documented and up to date, so that others can step in and take over easily when needed.
Covering the absence
When you have a reasonably firm indication of how much leave they are intending to take, start to think through the options for managing during their absence. Obviously the more notice you have the better, but be wary about pushing people into making a premature decision and having them change their mind at a later date. Employers in this project found it useful to work with the employee going on parental leave and others in the team to explore the following questions.
- What work has to be done during their absence?
- Does their position need to be filled? Where work is project based, it can be easier to reschedule projects for their return. If there are plenty of other people available to fill shifts and rosters, you may not need to employ an additional person. If work loads are light, you may be able to redistribute the work.
- Does all their work need to be covered or just specific parts?
- How might this work be undertaken? Does it need to be covered by one person, or could it be shared among several?
- Does the work need to be done by people who already know your business or your customers, or could it be done by someone new?
- Does it need to be undertaken by an employee working regular hours, or could it be covered by getting casual or temporary staff in periodically when the demand builds?
- Who might do the job?
- Is there someone else in your business who would like the opportunity to take on the role as career development?
- Could the key elements of the job be redistributed amongst others already in the organisation, with additional support being brought in to reduce their workload e.g. additional administrative support?
- Are there employees who would like to increase their hours during this period?
- Are there any ex-employees who might be interested in coming back during this period on either a full-time or part-time basis?
- Are there any contractors or consultants that you already work with who might be interested in coming in during this time?
- Are there people in allied organisations who might be interested in coming across for a fixed period of time?
- Do you need to recruit externally?
- If appointing a person to fill the role, be clear that it is for a fixed term to cover someone on parental leave, and will end when the person on parental leave comes back to work. Specify this in their employment agreement.
- If possible, make arrangements in time for the person going on parental leave to participate in the handover of the work.
While they are on parental leave
Keep in contact. You want them to continue to feel part of your company.
Contact them regularly
- If your organisation is undergoing significant changes, make sure they are included in briefings or sent all the information that people at work are given.
- Invite them to morning tea or work social functions, in particular for welcomes and farewells for other staff.
Keep them up to date
- Make sure they stay on e-mail and mailing lists for information coming into, or being sent out by your business.
- Invite them to relevant in-house training sessions.
Keep them involved
- Invite their participation if you are consulting other employees about changes or developments.
- Check whether they are interested in working on a casual basis while they are on unpaid parental leave, either by undertaking an occasional shift, or carrying out a relevant project from home. Make sure they have applied for and finished taking their paid parental leave before doing any work for you.
Making it easy to return
As soon as you know when they will return, or some weeks before their parental leave ends, talk with them about how they would like to return. Be flexible about how they may return. Be prepared to consider part-time work or a staggered return to full-time work.
Think about how you might make it easy for them to continue breastfeeding if that is relevant.
- Is there a suitable clean, private space available she can use? This may be on your own premises, or a space that you organise jointly with other small businesses in the immediate area.
- Would it be possible to adjust the length and/or timing of breaks, so she can feed her baby?
This may include a longer lunch hour so she can go to her baby rather than have the baby brought to her.
- What rosters and shifts would work best with breastfeeding routines?
For further information
The parental leave section provides an overview of employer's rights and responsibilities regarding parental leave, a useful summary of employees paid and unpaid leave entitlements and the breaks and facilities for breastfeeding.
Part-time work can be a good way of matching the needs of your business with the needs of employees.
Setting it up
Think laterally about how part-time jobs might be structured including:
- hours per day
- days per week
- hours per month
- set core hours, with the flexibility to increase these when work demands increase
- combinations of part-time work and full-time work e.g. to cover school holidays or to fit in training for a competitive athlete.
Don't assume that it is only women with young children who will want to work part-time. Increasingly a wide range of people are choosing to work part-time to enable them to combine paid work with other activities or responsibilities, to cope with ill health or as a transition to retirement.
You may have employees who want to move from working full-time to working part-time. This may be for a period of time such as returning from parental leave or coping with a family crisis or illness, or on an ongoing basis. If so, you may want to consider the following:
- Could you make this work for your business?
- What arrangements might work for you and for the employee? Consider work flows and peak periods on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
- How will you scale down the job? Do you need to:
- Reduce the number of tasks?
- Reduce the size of the tasks?
- Select the particular tasks which are best suited to their skills and the hours that you agree they should work?
- Will this leave work that needs to be managed in another way? Do you need to:
- Redistribute the work to others, taking care that you are not overloading them?
- Increase, by agreement, the hours of another worker who is interested in working longer?
- Bring in additional support?
- Use technology or develop processes to do the work more efficiently?
Be careful that you are not setting up a situation where the part-time employee is expected to do a full-time job in part-time hours.
Making it work
Employers gave the following suggestions and advice:
- Establish mutually acceptable times for working, and include the details of what has been agreed in the letter of appointment and/or employment agreement.
- Make sure you give your part-time employees what all your employees deserve - clear instructions and expectations, regular feedback, training opportunities and consideration for promotion.
- Use wall charts so everyone knows what days and times people work.
- Depending on the nature of your business, establish a core time when all staff, including those working part-time are present. Schedule any staff meetings during that time.
- If your employees don't work at the same time, alternate the days and/or times of staff meetings, so that everyone can attend at least some of the time. Write up decisions or important information from these meetings and keep it in a place where it is easily accessible to those who were not there. Expect all employees to check what happened if they were not able to attend, or set up a buddy system where someone who did attend takes responsibility for updating a person who didn't.
- Try to hold at least some of your social events at times when your part-time staff can also attend.
- Make sure part-time workers are recognised and accepted as a legitimate and valued member of the team.
- Use e-mail and text messaging to keep all employees up to date.
If relevant, think through how you want them to handle ongoing contact with clients.
- Do they need to let clients know what hours they will be available?
- Do they need to let clients know who they can contact outside of those times?
- Are systems needed so that another staff member is kept informed of their work and any particular issues that may arise while they are not there?
Employers recommended establishing 'crisis' arrangements in advance.
- Do your part-time employees have any flexibility to work additional hours on major projects or to attend meetings outside their scheduled hours?
- Is there any scope in your budget to pay them for additional work if it is required?
- Is it appropriate to contact them by phone outside of their normal working hours?
Formal job sharing is still not common in New Zealand organisations. However we talked to employers who have used job sharing and were positive about the experience. They benefited from access to a wider range of skills, better coverage and greater flexibility in getting the work done. Although job sharing in New Zealand has typically been used in task or process focused jobs such as reception or manufacturing, in other countries it has been used successfully in a wide range of roles including management positions.
Setting it up
Some businesses formally set up job sharing arrangements, where it is an integral part of both employee's employment agreement. The agreement needs to include what will happen when either partner leaves the position.
Common arrangements include:
- Initially offering the remaining partner the position on a full-time basis. If they are unable or unwilling to do this, the organisation tries to recruit an appropriate partner.
- If this is not successful within a set period of time, the remaining partner is deployed elsewhere if possible. If not possible, the employment is terminated.
You may want to seek specialist advice in drawing up the agreement, and advise the job-share partners to also seek advice before signing.
Others formally set it up as two separate part-time jobs, where continued employment is not dependent on the job-share partner, but the work is organised as a job share arrangement.
You don't need to know why people want to job-share, although most will be happy to tell you, but you can specify that there must not be a conflict of interest with any other employment.
Structuring the job share
It is critical that this works for your company as well as for the employees. You may find it useful to consider:
- Do you need coverage of the full work day, every day of the week or would it be more useful to have partial or total overlap to cover peak work periods and hand-over times?
- Does the job share need to add up to 40 hours a week, or would it be better for it to be more or less than that?
- Do you want to split the job by hours e.g. mornings and afternoons, or by tasks, responsibilities, clients or portfolios?
- Are there particular tasks that you need both partners to be involved in or meetings that you need them both to attend?
- How will you decide how the job is allocated? Do you want to suggest the arrangement or do you want the job share partners to come up with a recommendation that you consider?
Making it work
Employers have found it useful to do the following:
- Arrange for any initial training to be done together. This saves time and will help them build a good working relationship.
- Ensure communication systems are established and reviewed regularly e.g. handover processes, client files, project management plans, briefings.
- Make sure that all people in the organisation understand the arrangement, and who they should approach on specific issues.
- Where relevant, make sure that clients or key contacts also know who they should approach on specific issues, whether it is one of the job-share partners or either.
- Regularly check how the arrangement is working.
- If problems occur, discuss them openly and work together to find solutions.
- Agree how and when the arrangement should be reviewed.
If one partner is attending training or on leave (sick leave, bereavement leave or annual holidays) you can't automatically expect the other to cover, but you can discuss their availability to cover their partner's absence.
It will be cheaper to pay them for the extra hours than employing temporary staff.
Most organisations prefer to assess people's performance separately. However you may wish to include how well they are making the job-share work as one of the performance criteria.
Working from home is a strategy that is increasingly being used by small businesses for some jobs. There were employers in every sector we spoke to who were using this option either on an occasional basis, as a regular component of the job or the usual way of working. Examples included winemakers, designers, policy analysts and community workers; staff carrying out research, developing proposals or managing phone contact with customers. Sometimes it is suggested by the employee, to make it easier to care for family or reduce travelling time. Sometimes it is suggested by the employer when the area the employee needs to service is closer to their home than it is to the office, or where office accommodation is restricted. However for it to work, it needs to suit both the employer and the employee. It needs to be voluntary, not compulsory.
The following are some of the things that are useful to consider if you are thinking about employees working from home on more than a very occasional basis.
Is it a realistic option?
For the work:
- Does it suit the type of work?
- Does the job, or the parts of the job that would be done from home, have clearly defined and agreed objectives and timeframes?
- What impact, if any, would it have on customers or clients?
- What would be the impact on the rest of the team?
- Are there confidentiality or security issues that could be compromised?
- Will they require resources that others may need to access at the same time? Could this be managed?
For the employee
- Does this suit the employee's style of working?
- Are they self-motivated?
- Could they cope with the isolation and lack of social interaction?
- Do they have the time management skills required?
- Do they need a separation between work and home?
- Does the employee have the appropriate working environment at home?
- space and lighting?
- furniture and equipment?
- peace and quiet?
- the understanding of family, friends and neighbour
For the employer
- Do you have a sufficient level of trust in the employee for this to work?
- Can you focus on what they achieve, rather than watching them as they work?
- Is this an option you would consider for all relevant types of work or is this a reward for trusted, high performing employees?
Agree before you start
Reaching agreement before you start will help avoid many of the problems that can occur.
- What hours do you expect them to work? Are they set, or is it at the employee's convenience so long as they get the work done? Do they need to let you know?
- How, and how often, do you expect them to be in touch with the office?
- How will you or other team members contact them?
- Are they expected to attend team meetings, training or briefing sessions?
- How can clients contact them?
- How will you be confident that their work space is safe and meets legal occupational and health requirements?
- What equipment will you provide, and what do you expect them to provide?
- What costs e.g. power, internet access, phone, will you meet and what do you expect them to meet?
- Are there implications for your insurance cover?
- What procedures will be used for handling and storing sensitive or confidential information?
- If the arrangement does not work, what process will you use for adjusting or terminating it?
Making it work
- How can you both be clear about what they are expected to do?
- How will they report progress?
- How will you make them feel part of the team?
- How will you keep them involved with social events? How much notice will they need?
- How and how often will you monitor that the arrangement is working for them, for the rest of the team and for the organisation?
- How will they access technical support for computers or other technology?
For many, the use of casual employees and relievers is critical to providing flexibility around leave and rosters, as well as managing any other absences from the workplace whether they are related to illness, bereavements or training.
Employers who have been successful in using casual employees use the following strategies.
- Make sure the pool is big enough. Sometimes this is difficult for a small organisation on its own, so some, such as in the retail sector, have joined together to have a joint pool. Others work to keep in touch with previous permanent employees who might be interested in working on a casual basis.
- Make sure that they do get some work on a reasonably regular basis. This keeps them engaged and familiar with your systems and equipment. It keeps them as a familiar face for other staff and sometimes even customers.
- Make them feel like they belong to the company. Include them in social events. Keep them informed of developments and changes in your business.
- Use incentives such as retaining staff discounts. This can be linked with being prepared to work a minimum number of shifts, say over a three month period.
- Use times when your casual workers are available and interested in picking up extra hours, such as students during university holidays, to plan training for other staff or to encourage them to take their annual holidays.