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Why you need to be flexible: The top 11 benefits employees want

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors who write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors who write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

People’s attitudes around flexible work are changing. To attract and retain skilled staff, it’s essential that your business adapts to meet these expectations.

Girl hugging mother working on laptop

The Telstra Business Intelligence report on Thriving in the Digital Age showed that “flexible working hours” is the number one most important benefit for employees, and “remote working flexibility” ranks third. But this is at odds with what many small and medium businesses are offering.

Finding quality staff has become increasingly difficult for many businesses since COVID-19. With skilled migrants returning home, people feeling hesitant to change jobs during uncertainty, and many moving to regional areas, the talent pool is limited. In this environment, retaining a good team is vital.

Gemma Lloyd, co-founder and CEO of WORK180, explains that the employment landscape has fundamentally changed. “It’s different from before. Nearly every company is looking for workers with tech skills, and they are offering the world, so you need to differentiate yourself as an employer,” she says.

Here, we look at the most important work benefits ranked by employees in the Thriving in the Digital Age report – and how you can look to implement them in your business.

1. The most important employee benefit – flexibility of working hours

In the Thriving in the Digital Age report, when employees were asked what was most important to be offered in order for them to have great personal wellbeing and productivity at work, the top answer was flexible working. In a mindset that’s often focused on salary as a negotiation tool, surveyed businesses underestimated how important flexibility was to staff.

In thinking about what’s possible, it’s worth considering that the reasons behind employee desire for flexible work can vary greatly. It could be due to commitments, like school drop-offs, university classes or a side hustle. For other employees, it could be a lifestyle choice, like working better at different hours, working around hobbies or wanting more free time.

With increased understanding of how work-life balance impacts human happiness – and with more companies offering flexible working solutions – it’s worth seriously considering what you can offer when it comes to flexible working hours.

What it could look like

“The common pushback we hear from businesses is that they can’t afford these types of [flexible] policies, but perhaps the real question is can you afford not to?” says Gemma Lloyd.

When you sit down to think about it, there may be more feasible flexible options for your business than previously thought. If it’s possible in your business, you could offer flexible start and finish time windows. For example, supporting your team to start work at any time between 8–10am and finish between 4–6pm. Other options include a nine-day fortnight, a compressed week (working more hours in less days), job share and flexibility in job location.

In action – Kuluin Mufflers

Kuluin Mufflers is a family-owned custom exhaust specialist on the Sunshine Coast. When Angie Mansey and her partner bought the business, the young family knew having a flexible working policy would benefit not just their own wellbeing, but their staff’s as well.

“We extend this to our team so that they can be the parents or part-time students that they want to be,” Angie says. “Our workshop can function after-hours, which allows flexibility.”

The other most important benefits at work, ranked by employees

2. Training to develop new skills

Opportunities for skills training is a high priority for employees. Consider setting aside a learning and development budget and supporting your team to select a course that could help them succeed in their role. Training doesn’t have to be expensive – online learning can be affordable, flexible and efficient.

3. Remote working flexibility

People’s desire and capacity to be working remotely has accelerated due to COVID-19. Lockdowns aside, consider whether your remote working policy is competitive in the current climate. With hiring already more difficult, it’s important to consider whether your policy is going to attract the level of talent you need, and retain current staff. While many small businesses can’t compete with bigger companies on salary, allowing remote working also has the advantage of opening up the talent pool to people who live regionally.

4. Technology/software-specific training

With more people working from home and relying on digital tools to do so, workers are placing more importance on tech and software-specific training. Talk to a representative from your tech provider and find out how you can help educate your team to get the most from the tools you use – they’ll want to help ensure your business has a positive experience with their product. 

5. Opportunity to work part-time

Particularly relevant for parents or people who are studying, offering part-time arrangements could be a huge drawcard for skilled staff juggling responsibilities outside of work. If someone expresses the desire to work part-time, it could be well worth seeing how you can accommodate. And if you have two staff members interested in going part-time, job share could be a viable option.

The least important benefits

6. Team lunches and social activities

The Thriving in the Digital Age report showed that this is less important to employees than business owners believe it is. However, if you employee a younger workforce, they may be seeking more social activities than older age groups. Talk to your team to gauge expectations. And if you can’t all be in the same location, consider hosting an online activity.

7. Health insurance benefits or discounts

There wasn’t a huge amount of interest in health insurance from employees, but it was still more than what business owners currently offer. If you’re interested in providing this, there may be an industry-specific health fund your business could get affiliated with, which might offer special rates or other advantages. A consultant should be able to help investigate this for you.

8. Access to counselling or psychologists

Similar to above, the research found that employees value this more than business owners expect. The mental health and wellbeing of your team (and yourself) should be a priority to help prevent things like stress and burnout. Look at partnering with an employee assistance program to help give everyone in your business access to this important offering.

9. Diversity and inclusion policies

Operating with diversity and inclusion in mind is important to make staff comfortable and attract new hires. For example: if you’re recruiting, make sure job advertisements consider nuances like gender-neutral wording. Diversity and inclusion is a fashionable topic in HR circles, with many companies trying to do better. But these policies can be seen as tokenistic if a business doesn’t walk the talk. Staff may view policies alone as symbolic gestures, which undermines the purpose of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Meaningless policies are not going to increase staff members productivity and wellbeing.

10. Ability to bring in contractors/freelancers

Contractors and freelancers can help alleviate the pressure if your team is experiencing a higher than usual workload, but businesses overestimated how important this was to employees.

11. Meditation or mindfulness classes

Research showed that this is less important to employees than business owners expected. Although it’s still a valuable benefit, it may not be as important to your team as work flexibility.

To help you make the greatest positive impact in your workplace, look to the top items on this list – like flexibility of hours, skills training, remote working and tech training. These benefits can help employees upskill, gain confidence and work in a way that suits their lifestyle. Listening to your staff’s needs and pivoting your business with that in mind can enable your business to flourish in an evolving business environment.

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