Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Bringing the “right to request” flexible working arrangements to life: from policies to practices

an article by Rae Cooper and Marian Baird (Unviversity of Sydney, Australia) published in Employee Relations Volume 37 Issue 5 (2015)


The purpose of this paper is to understand how the “right to request” flexible working arrangements (FWAs), located in national policy and in organisational policy contexts, are brought to life in the workplace by employees and their managers. The authors seek to understand the nature and content of requests, the process followed in attending to requests, the scope of the arrangements which resulted and the implications for the work of both employees and managers.

The authors employ a case study method, investigating how formal “right to request” FWAs policies translate to practice within two large companies in Australia. The primary data focuses on 66 in-depth interviews with line managers, employees and key organisational informants. These interviews are triangulated with legislative, company and union policy documents.

Most requests were made by mothers returning from maternity leave. Typically their requests involved an attempt to move from full-time to part-time hours. The authors found a considerable knowledge deficit among the employees making requests and a high level of informality in the processing of requests. As a result, managers played a critical role in structuring both the procedure and the substantive outcomes of FWAs requests. Managers’ personal experience and levels of commitment to FWAs were critical in the process, but their response was constrained by, among other things, conflicting organisational policies.

Research limitations/implications
The scale of the empirical research is possibly limited by a focus on large companies in the private sector.

Practical implications
The authors provide insight into the implementation gap between FWA policy and practice. The authors make suggestions as to how to make “right to request” policies more accessible and effective.

Social implications
The “right to request” flexible working is an issue of critical importance to families, employees, managers, organisations and economies.

“Right to request” FWAs are relatively new in legislation and policy and thus the authors have an incomplete understanding of how they operate and come to life at the workplace level. The authors show a significant implementation gap between policy and practice and point to some of the critical influences on this. Among other things, the authors build new insight in relation to the interaction of formal and informal and the role and place of the direct manager in the process of operationalising the “right to request”.

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