Flexibility - The New work Equation l Mercer Australia

Thriving Workforce

Trust + autonomy + collaboration = The New Work Equation

Flexibility is among the top three most sought-after job attributes according to Mercer’s 2016 Global Talent Trends Study but most employers struggle to deliver it, putting at risk their ability to retain and attract top talent to their organisations.

Companies must come to grips with a new work equation, combining trust, autonomy and collaboration to make flexible working a mainstream feature of their employee value propositions. For top talent, this new work equation, coupled with meaningful work with career development matters more than money.

Flexibility – Giving your employee’s greater control and choice

While gaining growing attention in recent years, the term ‘flexibility’ has been part of workplace parlance for decades. Giving employees greater control and choice about how, where and when work is done has traditionally been associated with working mothers in the form of reduced (part time) hours, and unfairly perceived as career limiting. This is largely because deeply ingrained stereotypes about the ideal worker often clash with perceptions of working women and motherhood. As long as flexibility is primarily seen as a means to provide work/life balance, it will struggle to gain a worthy foothold.


In practice, greater work/life balance is more a by-product of flexible working. A growing body of evidence suggests real business value is gained from higher employee engagement, greater discretionary effort and improved productivity. Indeed, our 2016 Global Talent Trends Study found two in three employers believed their team was more productive when team members could work flexibly, but less than half of employers reported having flex.

Implementing Flexibility

Flexibility in benefits design doesn’t just happen by accident. Mercer’s Talent consultants still see most employers approaching flexible working as a negotiation with employees, often triggered by an investment in technology or workplace design, or a desire to improve gender equality. This approach confines the new work equation to an individual rather than an organisational opportunity.

Employers should instead build a vision for their workplace that has flexibility at its centre. Leaders and middle-management must buy into the future of work. They must understand what’s at stake and what needs to change. Building a new management skillset to allocate roles and responsibilities across individual capabilities (i.e. what people are good at) and capacities (i.e. how many hours per day/ week/ year they’re available) is critical. So much more is possible when tackled at the organisational and team level.

Flexible Work for Men

Telstra’s Reid Johnson is a great example of this. Approaching age 50 and raising a family of four, Reid sees himself working another 20 years in senior executive roles. But to live a full life of family, community and career, Reid put his hand up to move to a nine-day fortnight, compressed into a four-day week. It means every second Friday is his day to take a much-needed breath while someone else in his team steps into his role. His delegates enjoy fantastic career exposure (two were promoted in the first year of Reid’s arrangement), while Reid’s productivity and engagement have soared.

Reid was one of five featured in the Equilibrium Man Challenge – a micro-documentary series exploring flexible work for men. His story, and others like it, highlights the importance of out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to structuring work so that individuals, teams and organisations benefit.

What are your organisations policies on flexible working? Let us know.

We also recently introduced our  Diversity Connect Network, a business focused group aimed at helping business practitioners tackle D&I problems collectively.

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