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working_woman_typing_on_computerLynda McAlary-Smith has some tips for parents seeking flexibility in order to better balance work and family commitments.

We know what work flexibility offers employees, but understanding the benefits to the business can help parents identify and negotiate the best arrangements for them while taking into account the needs of their employer.

Benefits to business include:
• a cost-effective means of retaining skilled staff and attracting new employees
• a way to be recognised as an employer of choice within an industry or sector
• an increase in the number of people returning to work after parental leave
• improvements in staff morale, leading to greater engagement in the workplace
• reduction in turnover of staff, leading to lower recruitment and training costs
• demonstrating to staff they are valued by the organisation
• reduced absenteeism
• improved organisational efficiency through the benefits of long service, such as institutional memory, industry knowledge, networks and contacts.

What Does Flexible Work Entail?
Your workplace might already have family-friendly workplace policies and practices in place, and it's a good idea to know exactly what these are. Here are some examples of family-friendly workplace provisions:
• accessing annual leave in single or part-day periods
• taking time off in lieu of overtime payments
• working additional hours to make up for time taken off
• accessing accrued rostered days off in part-days
• enabling children to access the workplace (where safe) or providing a carer's room, child-care facilities or information on accessing these facilities near the workplace
• working part-time or creating part-time-work opportunities
• job-share arrangements, telecommuting or home-based work.

Keep in mind that just because a particular arrangement hasn't been used in your workplace before doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered or can't work. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) website showcases organisations that have implemented flexible working arrangements.

What Family-Friendly Arrangements Are Working Parents Entitled To?
The Fair Work Act 2009 includes entitlements employers must provide to help employees achieve better work and family balance. Access to these entitlements depends on whether people are casual, full-time or part-time employees.

The Fair Work Ombudsman's National Employment Standards (NES) set out a safety net of minimum entitlements for most employees covered by the national workplace relations system.  

It's very important to recognise that while working parents have the right to request flexible working arrangements, they can still be refused on reasonable business grounds. Some points that may be reasonable grounds for refusal include:
• the effect on the workplace and your employer's business, including impacts on productivity, efficiency and customer service
• inability to reorganise work among existing staff
• inability to recruit a replacement employee
• practicality of arrangements required to accommodate your request.

Finding What Works For Everyone
To ensure employees and employers make the best of flexible-workplace arrangements, some preliminary work will be needed. A request for a flexible working arrangement must first be made in writing. Consider these questions before approaching your employer:
• what is the perfect arrangement for you and your family?
• can your partner have some flexibility in their workplace to complement your arrangement?
• what arrangement would work well for your employer?

It is not enough to say you want flexibility. Businesses and employees need to be creative and work together to find the most suitable arrangements. Work flexibility is most needed when employees return from parental leave, but they should start thinking about it and discussing options with their family and workplace before returning and making the request to their employer.

The less experience an employer has in offering family-friendly arrangements, the better prepared a proposal has to be to make that employer feel comfortable with the arrangement and ensure the working environment remains harmonious and productive.

For help in formulating flexible-work requests, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website for best-practice guides on work and family and parental leave. For information and advice about workplace laws related to pregnancy, visit www.fairwork.gov.au. Advice is also available at the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. An interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.


Lynda McAlary-Smith is executive director of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Education and Major Employers Branch. She is also a mother of two, and has navigated returning to work after periods of parental leave and the transition from full-time to part-time work.

If you would like to ask Lynda any questions, she will be presenting at the Pregnancy, Babies & Children's Expo in Sydney on 24, 25 and 26 May 2013, at 12.15pm each day.

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