A business is more than a brick-and-mortar structure, where people clock in nine to five and get a task done. A business is made up hard working people, with unique needs and dynamics. With this in mind a new policy is in play in Australian businesses: As of 1 December 2018, the rules around flexible work requests have changed. This is according to a new ruling by the Fair Work Commission (FWC). But the big question is, how will the changes to flexible work laws affect small business?

So what’s different now?

The regulation is all about how flexible an employer needs to be with staff. So if an employee has been working for a company for 12 months or longer, they are entitled to make a request to amend the hours, location or pattern of their job description. If the employer refuses, this has to be with a backed up by an informed and plausible decision.

And the fine print?

According to the FWC website, workers who aren’t casual can make a request if they’ve been employed for at least 12 months and if they:

  • Are a parent and have the responsibility to care for a child.
  • Are a carer (under the Carer Recognition Act 2010)
  • Have a disability.
  • Are over the age of 55.
  • Are victim to domestic or family violence.
  • Care for someone victim to domestic or family violence.

Casual workers can make a request if:

  • They have been working for the same employees for 12 months.
  • Have a reasonable expectation to continue work there in their relevant capacity.

What’s the upside for small business?

Simply put – having happy employees. When your employees feel like their personal circumstances are respected and accommodated, it can only have a positive effect on performance. This is likely to increase your employee’s longevity in the business. Particularly, if they are likely to take off work as a result of personal responsibilities, like fetching kids from school. In these cases, care and consideration go a long way. And this can ultimately promote loyalty. Some companies are extending the practice to include employees who want to explore creative projects. Understanding that well-rounded individuals are more dynamic and will be far more useful to the long-term vision of a business. By allowing (and encouraging) this kind of personal exploration, they will be invigorated in their work capacity. And, equipped with gratitude and zest for life, should be willing to go the extra mile at work.

What’s the downside for small business?

So how will the changes to flexible work laws affect small business, negatively? In an article for Smart Company, CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) Peter Strong made it clear that this is going to make the already complicated task of running a small business, even harder. His scepticism is rooted in how small businesses don’t have the HR capabilities to deal with these types of ad-hoc requests. Further to this. small business owners are concerned that staff requests like this will impede on business dynamics, making it very hard to drive their objectives as a core priority. But a positive factor to consider is that often, small businesses are naturally flexible. This is because they are mostly structured in an un-corporate way. Meaning that more flattened structures may allow for this type of open-door policy. In fact, these types of understandings may already be in place, albeit in an informal way.

What’s the best way to handle these requests?

Be approachable:

This policy embodies taking ‘the personal’ into account. So make sure you give your employee the courtesy of a face-to-face discussion, even if it is to decline the request.

No-one likes surprises:

If the option is immediately off-the-table, say so upfront. Raise legitimate concerns at the outset. Maybe you can come up with suggestions on how to make it work, together.

Have an open mind:

Different isn’t always a bad thing. If you think of your employees as people, the problem becomes just another challenge to navigate. So ask yourself again: How will the changes to flexible work laws affect small business? This question is not as tricky as it seems. The word ‘flexible’ implies open cards. This extends to the employer too. The intention is that this is a win-win scenario for both you and your people. Entrepreneurs deal with curve balls all the time. This should be no different. So do what you do, and think out of the box.

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