How to Introduce Flexible Working into a Small Accounting Firm

So, what exactly is flexible working? Flexible working is about allowing employees to work in a non-standard pattern to enable them to effectively balance work with their life and even lifestyle commitments, (though the latter may have lower priority). Flexible working can include things like homeworking (one of the most common forms of flexible working), split shifts, swing shifts, part-time work  ing, compressed hours, annualised hours, job-share, staggered hours, flex-time.

How to Introduce Flexible Working into a Small Accounting Firm

Flexible working has become one of the key deciding factors for accountants when choosing to join or remain at an accounting firm, according to an article by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia in December 2011.

Accountancy firms that adopt a flexible working policy, as part of a competitive conditions and benefits package, will be an employer of choice and enjoy competitive advantage over their peers when trying to secure and retain top talent. Being an employer of choice is an especially important quality for Australian accounting businesses considering the talent shortages that are present in the Australian finance sector. In fact, a 2010 study by the New Zealand Government indicated that ‘a lack of workplace flexibility in the accounting sector is a significant reason behind the skills shortage’. This lack of flexibility is also contributing to the ‘lack of career advancement among female accountants in particular’.

The case for introducing flexible working in Australian accounting firms is compelling given the talent starved environment and the undoubted benefits that it brings.

But, how does one introduce flexible working? The recommendation is to develop a flexible working policy. This does not have to be an expensive or time consuming exercise. Either you can employ the services of an employee relations specialist to develop and implement the policy for you, or you can go online and purchase a flexible working template policy from an online HR documents vendor (ensuring compliance with Australian Fair Work legislation), and then adapt and implement it yourself. Both approaches are effective and the approach that you choose should depend on the make-up and skills of the policy makers in your accounting firm.

A flexible working policy simply provides you with a framework to enable employees to make requests for flexible working and then for you to able to assess this on a case by case but objective basis. There is currently no legislation in Australia to say that you must approve any request for flexible working, so it is entirely your decision, however, by adopting this process you can show that you are an open and fair employer.

Flexible working should not be granted indefinitely but on the basis that the employee maintains certain performance standards, and therefore the employee’s flexible working pattern should be reviewed regularly for effectiveness. Employees who are under-performing should not be allowed to adopt flexible working patterns until their performance has reached satisfactory standard. You should ensure that there are no unfair discriminatory criteria employed such as race, creed, age or agenda when approving request for flexible working.