There are many examples of flexible work practices at UWA.
Staff preferences for early starts (7.45 am) and late finishes (6.00 pm) are always taken into account when setting the rosters.
In 2008, 13 staff in Levels 3 – 7 accessed a total of 45 weeks of purchased leave. In 2009, this broaded to staff members in levels 3 – 9.
The Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences has a number of staff at different stages in their lives who need to be flexible in their work practices. The Faculty Office is a family friendly workplace and attempts to meet the demands of a busy and time-poor clinical academic workforce while encouraging staff to maintain a balance in their professional and personal lives. This often means that Faculty meetings are held outside normal office hours, at the beginning and end of the day, so flexible arrangements need to work for both employer and employee.
A number of the staff have young families and several have requested a change to their hours of work to accommodate family demands. We have both men and women who are primary carers who have reduced their hours, either for a fixed period or on a permanent basis.
The IT Network Systems Administrator (HEE Level 7) reduced to 0.6 FTE to care for two pre-school children so that his wife could pursue her career as a teacher. Now that the children are older he is gradually increasing his hours back to almost full-time (0.87 FTE), although requires flexibility on three out of five days to work fewer hours and to start and finish early.
In this instance he holds a position where client contact is minimal and therefore the requirement to be at work during normal office hours is not so critical. There are other jobs in the Faculty Office where such flexibility would be more difficult to achieve but we try to work with staff to achieve a mutually satisfactory compromise.
The Faculty has a culture of accountability rather than compliance and places a great deal of trust in our employees to get their jobs done without watching over their shoulders to count the hours they are in the office.
The benefits to the Faculty and University of flexible work practices are in keeping good employees who might otherwise look for more suitable work elsewhere. In recent years IT staff have been in high demand and our staff member would probably have been able to find more highly paid work elsewhere. We were able to accommodate his needs and therefore retain his skills, hopefully for the longer term. The difficulty in the first year was that we could not backfill the ‘vacant’ 0.4 FTE with a skilled network systems person and so the workload was greater than ideal. This year the return to almost full-time has made the job more manageable.
The other benefits are more altruistic, in terms of creating a culture where people feel valued based on goodwill and trust.
In order to retain the best quality staff it is important to realise that life circumstance can be defining factor when making appointments and agreeing to working arrangements.
In many areas of Research Services the service nature of the role demands a full-time officer to work normal business hours so that they are accessible to the academic community. However the team of Research Development Officers allows for more flexible working arrangements because this role often requires individuals to work with researchers and research groups at a mutually agreed time. In making appointments in the Research Development Office I have exploited this flexibility to ensure that the best possible people are recruited to the position.
The Research Development Officer (RDO) typically has previous research experience and many have PhDs. On the whole the current RDO team consists of working parents (male and female) with significant domestic responsibilities so most work part-time as a result. The reality is that without offering the flexibility of part-time work I would have difficulty in attracting such highly qualified people into these positions.
An example of this is the recent appointment of an RDO who was recruited from an outside organisation whilst seven months pregnant. It was agreed that she would commence her appointment part-time after her period of maternity leave and this has subsequently become a very successful partnership.
In the School of Population Health (SPH), flexible working arrangements for the administration staff have been introduced over the past couple of years. In part, this was due to the School Manager having worked as a research scientist for many years whereby the work day was determined by the experiment and not the clock.
There is more of an attitude of as long as everyone does the job required of them, then the actual time when they do it is not as much of an issue.
The administration staff consist of a four full time staff - manager, IT, accounts and teaching officer and four part time staff - IT, teaching, marketing and HR officer. By hiring four part time staff instead of two full time staff, it allows for a greater depth of expertise within the office as well as having staff to continue working whilst doing other things in life – another job, study, child rearing or work life balance.
Flexibility in starting and finishing hours has numerous benefits for the School, staff and the students. In the first instance, it allows staff to avoid peak hour traffic by arriving and leaving either side of rush hour; staff are much more relaxed in the mornings having not spent an hour sitting in a traffic jam. SPH also has a number of postgraduate classes that run until 7pm; having staff present until 6.30pm allows the part time students who work more contact time with administration to sort out their issues.
The ability to start early and finish late is also used by staff who wish to accumulate additional time. One example is a teaching officer who has a passion for sport and is significantly involved as a Board Member of the Association. Extra hours are accumulated in order to be able to leave early to attend numerous meetings and functions for six months of the year.
Another staff member has a young child; she is employed at 0.5fte but only works two long days a week to cut down on babysitting requirements. Alternatively, she may work two short days and then come into work on a Saturday morning to complete her additional hours. Weekend working is also used by another staff member whose husband sometimes works on Sundays; she will work on Sundays too and then have a long weekend when he has a Friday off.
Whilst all the administration staff are required for the daily running of the School and would normally have a lot of face to face interactions during the day, they are able to take time out from a normal week because of other work practices that exist in the office, a weekly, all inclusive, administration meeting and cross training. The weekly meeting involves everyone, no matter their level or job description, discussing where they are at with their work, problems, what is happening within the School and what is needed for the future. In this way, all staff know the big and small picture of each others jobs.
Cross training of Administration staff has numerous benefits. One major positive is that if someone gets sick or is having the day off, then another can pick up their work and continue on with it if need be. Examples of cross training are the two staff that would normally do the HR and Marketing jobs are being trained in student administration and how to run the School’s Summer and Winter Schools. The Teaching person is being trained in HR; the Marketing person is being trained in HR, PeopleSoft and research grants management whilst the HR person is being trained to undertake School reporting and planning.
In all, these practices make for a more flexible and enjoyable work environment.
I work annualised hours to have the flexibility to study for a Masters in Primary Teaching. I have a fantastic job as Senior Occupational Therapist in UWA Safety and Health, but needed a ‘sea change’, having worked in the field of worker’s compensation and with adults for the past 25 years.
My study is not related to my work, therefore applying for study leave was not appropriate. I traditionally work long hours, and I wanted to be available to work full time during study and semester breaks, so annualised hours seemed the best form of flexibility. My Manger supported my choice and this arrangement was formally supported by the Director of HR.
Annualised hours means working flexibly and banking hours across the year to give more time off. It is a good form of flexibility for study because it enables you to plan ahead and align study commitments with work requirements over the year. I need to work an average of ten weeks of 45 hours to catch up with the time that I am out of the office to attend lectures and tutorials during core business hours, then I use my annual recreation leave to attend teaching pracs.
I love the challenge of University study, learning and interacting with people from different backgrounds. This is the first time that I have studied at UWA and I cannot fault the teaching, the library staff or facilities. Appreciating the institution from a student perspective adds another dimension to my work.
Guilt with using flexible work practices for non-work related reasons is a personal challenge. But I have given a lot of my self and my time to the University over the past six years, and will continue to do so. The granting of flexibility has reinforced that my in-line managers value my work. Yet, they understand what I need as an individual to be happy. By taking myself out of my comfort zone, I appreciate more fully what I previously took for granted with my work at UWA – job security, great working conditions, flexibility, terrific work colleagues and a supportive manager. Great managers understand that life balance is essential for the wellbeing of their staff and, by assisting them to achieve this, is of benefit to the University as well.
I was finding it difficult to manage my role as primary carer for two young children and working full-time. Moving to a part-time or job sharing position wasn’t a viable financial option for me, in addition to which I really like my job and didn’t want to give it up. Prior to my current position and during the course of my 10 years at UWA, I had accrued a considerable amount of annual recreation leave. My supervisors agreed to an arrangement whereby I take a day of my annual leave each week. The arrangement is set to continue until my accrued leave is back to an acceptable level.
We were clear about how we were to manage the arrangement. We agreed on a set day a week so that everyone in my work area is aware when I won’t be available. We also agreed that I would make myself available if there was a need for me to come to work on my regular ‘day off’ for a particular event, meeting or task. I can then either take a different day, or not worry about having my day off for that week. This works well for both me and my work area, because during the very busy times, I can’t manage my workload on four days a week, so I have the flexibility to come in for the full five if I or my office needs me to.
In 2006 I decided that I would retire when my contract expired. My elderly mother lives in Canada and I wanted to spend more time with her. Given her age and the travel distances involved, using my four weeks annual recreation leave wasn’t the most efficient approach. I decided to transition into retirement and use the opportunity to change my working arrangement to suit my travel and eldercare needs. As a senior level, long-serving staff member, I was also mindful about meeting all of my work commitments and needed an arrangement that suited both me and my workplace.
After discussion with my manager, we came to an agreement whereby I worked a 0.6FTE on an annualised hours basis. I wanted to change to a 0.6FTE partly to see how I would manage on a lower income once I retired, and partly to free up more time for travel. However, I didn’t want to stay on a lower income unnecessarily so, in 2007, I went back to full-time employment but kept the annualised hours arrangement. The flexibility of working annualised hours meant I was able to arrange my time so that I worked fulltime for the first half of the year and took a block of three months leave in the second half. My salary and other benefits continued to be paid fortnightly.
This arrangement was possible because my job was largely project-based with many of the regular annual commitments scheduled for first semester. Annualised hours enabled me to plan ahead and work any remaining commitments around my period of leave. It also assisted the Director of HR with succession planning, with the new incumbent backfilling in the periods I was on leave and ready to step into the role on a full-time basis following my retirement.