Bendigo families' flexible work arrangements in spotlight

The days of being chained to the work desk from 9am to 5pm are over for many in Bendigo, with employees saying changes to their work routine have improved their quality of life.  

The workers shared their experience of job-sharing, working from home and negotiable start times on the even of Flexible Working Day on June 21. 

An initiative of careers coaching company Career Inside Track, the day seeks to banish what organisers call ‘flexism’, when nine-to-five colleagues think those on flexible arrangements do not work as hard.  

Banking on time at home

Bendigo Bank corporate solicitor Kate Haigh said her family “couldn’t survive” if it weren’t for flexible work hours. 

Moving from Melbourne to work at the bank’s regional headquarters meant leaving behind support networks who could help care for her 10-year-old twins before and after school.

Not only does Ms Haigh work one weekday from home, she also starts at the office later than some of her colleagues. The arrangement means she can drop her children at school before heading into work.

Her husband also has flexibility at his workplace, starting early so he can leave in time to make the school pick-up. 

Employers who gave their staff some slack received loyalty and hard work in return, Ms Haigh said.

“The fact I can arrive a little bit later because I've stayed to watch my child get an award at assembly means that when the pressure is on to get the work done, there's no resentment.”

Ms Haigh said her work arrangements were sometimes met with disbelief from people who did not think her job could be carried out remotely. 

But technology meant it no longer mattered where you worked, she said, explaining strong relationships, and even friendships, were forged between colleagues who only ever met on the telephone.

She recalled hugging a co-worker the first time they met in person; the pair had previously only every talked by phone. 

City staff share responsibilities  

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, job sharing is also a flexible work arrangement considered.

It’s a way of working Tiffany O’Connell, the executive assistant to the city’s mayor and councillors, has begun this year.

For the first three days of the week, Ms O’Connell comes into council headquarters before spending her Thursdays and Fridays with her young sons.  

“For me, it's for family, for the work life balance,” she said.

“I get to do a job I absolutely love, and then for the remainder of the week, I get to play with my boys.”

After the birth of her children, flexibility at the council made her transition back into the workplace a smooth one. 

”If there was a day when i first came back I needed to have shorter days, while kids got into the routine of daycare, that was okay,” Ms O’Connell remembered.

"I hope other organisations can follow suit.”

Flexible work a right, not a choice?

The Fair Work Ombudsman website also explains many employees can rightfully request flexible working arrangements.

Carers, people living with a disability, workers aged 55 or older and those with young children can ask their bosses for flexibility. 

Victims of family violence can also request for a change in their work conditions. 

But employer can turn down these requests on “reasonable business grounds”; if the arrangement would prove too costly, if changing other employees’ arrangements was impractical or if the move could mean a loss of efficiency or productivity, then the request could be denied.

For more information, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website here.