New Zealand Law Society - Flexible working arrangements

Flexible working arrangements

What is flexible working?

“Flexible work” covers a wide range of arrangements outside the traditional working week., and can be tailored to suit each employee’s needs. Common examples include:

  • working a different number of hours, e.g. part-time
  • working within different time frames, e.g. starting and finishing early
  • working remotely
  • job-sharing
  • purchasing additional leave
  • taking additional unpaid leave

The demand for flexible work in New Zealand is increasing. Factors such as an increase in the number working parents and advancements in technology mean that legal workplaces that embrace flexible working will have an advantage in attracting and retaining staff.

Of necessity, Covid-19 lockdowns drove rapid change in this area and accelerated the development and uptake of technologies that facilitated remote working. It brought about attitudinal change too, when it became evident that remote working is a viable alternative (or at least a viable supplement) to working in an office. Many workplaces are now operating on a hybrid office/home basis and this change may be permanent.

Employer obligations

Under part 6AA of the Employment Relations Act 2000, all employees have the right to request a variation of their working arrangements at any time. Employers have an obligation to respond to requests as soon as possible and not later than 1 month after receiving the request. There is a limited, but broad, number of reasons employers can decline a request, such as an inability to recruit additional staff or to reorganise work.

(Under section 6AB of the Employment Relations Act 2000, there is also a right for victims of domestic violence to request short-term flexible working of up to two months, in addition to domestic violence leave. More information about that is available here: Short-term flexible working - Employment New Zealand.)

Benefits to flexible work

In its 2019 publication "Flexible Working is Good for Business" , Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) states:

“Flexible working is increasingly recognised as a valuable way to attract and retain employees across all age groups and genders. It drives employee engagement and productivity as well as boosting employee well-being and happiness. Access to flexible working is clearly linked to:

  • Improved organisational productivity
  • An enhanced ability to attract and retain employees
  • Improved employee wellbeing
  • An increased proportion of women in leadership
  • Future-proofing the workplace”

WGEA also observed:

“Family and caring-friendly working policies are likely to boost the number of female employees in the workplace. There is a harmful assumption in the workforce that women’s priorities change once they have children and that they become less engaged with work. This is known as the ‘motherhood penalty’. Contrary to this myth, research shows that women who work flexibly are just as ambitious as their colleagues. Research also demonstrates that companies with more part-time managers have better gender-balance at an executive level. This underscores the impact that flexibility can have on promoting diversity and encouraging women to progress through the pipeline into more senior roles.”

As discussed in the Ministry for Women’s report, Realising the Opportunity, working part time or flexibly can have a negative impact on women’s career progression and earnings if it is associated with roles that have limited scope, responsibility, prospects, or lower pay. There may be negative misconceptions about employees who request flexible working arrangements, for example, that they are not as committed to their work. Normalising flexible work for men and women reduces these negative impacts and helps men and women to share caring responsibilities. Legal workplaces should see flexible work as an option for all employees.

Barriers to flexible work

A perception that flexible working will not be supported by employers is one of the main reasons employees may be reluctant to make a request. Employees may feel that working flexibly will harm their career if it means that they are seen as being less committed to their work, disadvantaging them compared to employees who work full time in the office. Legal workplaces can counter this by adopting a flexible working strategy and making it clear that flexible working is welcomed. As Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency points out in its post-Covid research:

"Employers can also help to dispel this assumption [that a desire for flexibility equates to a lack of commitment to work] and encourage more women into senior roles by offering and role modelling flexible work arrangements at all levels of the organisation and ensuring that professional and career development opportunities are available to staff who engage in flexible work."

What legal workplaces can do

  1. Develop a clear policy on flexible work. has a workplace policy builder
  2. Consider adopting an “all roles flex”model that creates an expectation that all staff, regardless of their role or position in the organisation, can work flexibly. (See Flexible Work: The Business Case for Flexible Work)
  3. Lead from the top. If senior members of a legal workplace take the opportunity to work flexibly, this can be an example for other employees that flexible working is accepted and encouraged. See “Actions for Employers” on Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency website
  4. Clearly communicate to employees that flexible work is accepted and will not have an adverse impact, either directly or indirectly, on their opportunities.
  5. Ensure that employees who work flexibly are not discriminated against in promotion decisions, performance ratings, bonuses and opportunities for work.
  6. Watch out for bias. There can be negative misconceptions about flexible work, which may harm an employees’ opportunities. Educating employees and managers about unconscious bias can help to reduce these effects.
  7. Highlight success stories of flexible work within an organisation. This can help to reinforce a legal workplace’s stance on flexibility and provide role models for employees.
  8. Be open to flexible working ideas from employees. Flexible work can include a range of different arrangements and exploring these can result in optimal productivity and employee retention. A trial period for new flexible working arrangements can be a good way to explore new options.

What individuals can do

  1. Know the business case for flexible work. Providing employers with the benefits to flexible working arrangements can help with debunking some of the myths around employees who work flexibly.
  2. Define your needs. Figure out what you are trying to accomplish through working flexibly and tailor your suggested arrangement to meet those needs.
  3. Be flexible. Your employer may have a particular objection to your plan, or the structure of your legal workplace might require your original ideas to be adjusted. Keeping open about new suggestions can help you to reach the best arrangement for you and your employer.
  4. Ask for a trial period. Your employer may be more willing to try out new options if they are experimental rather than a permanent commitment.
  5. Write down your agreement. Having a clear written record of your flexible working arrangement can help with sticking to boundaries and making sure your employer is clear about your arrangement.
  6. Be clear about your boundaries. If your arrangement involves working remotely or working outside usual business hours, it is important to draw a clear line between work and home.
  7. Reassess your arrangements. It is important to review your flexible working arrangements to see whether they are meeting your needs. If not, then you can make suggest adjustments which will work better for you and your employer.

For information and guidance about how to support parents in the profession click here.

Further reading and resources

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