Resource 3 - The benefits of flexible working

Eliminating the gender pay gap

Flexible-by-default will contribute to eliminating the Public Service gender pay gap. The Gender Pay Gap Action Plan includes the following milestones:

  • by the end of 2019 at least 15 agencies will be piloting flexible-by-default approaches
  • by the end of 2020 all agencies will be flexible-by-default
  • flexible options will be equally available to men, women and gender diverse employees and will not undermine career progression or pay.

Flexible-by-default is one of the focus areas of the Gender Pay Gap Action Plan because women still take on most family caring work and are currently more likely to work flexibly than men. On the plus side, flexible working helps women remain in the paid workforce while also caring for family. On the downside, working flexibly can limit a women’s career progression and reduce their life-time income, because:

  • senior roles are traditionally less likely to be offered flexibly
  • stereotypes exist that women working flexibly are less interested in their careers, and/or less able to undertake challenging work or senior roles.

Normalising flexible working for all types of roles will help break the association between working flexibility and stalled careers.

In addition, research suggests that men face barriers to accessing flexible working which limits their ability to invest more in family caring responsibilities. Increasing men’s access to workplace flexibility therefore has the potential to even out the distribution of family-caring work and help close the gender pay gap.

Increasing diversity and inclusion

The Public Service is committed to increasing diversity and inclusion to ensure its workforce reflects, values and understands the communities it serves. Workplace flexibility is a big enabler of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and supports increased diversity in the leadership pipeline.

The New Zealand Workplace Diversity Survey 7 found that 58 percent of respondents felt that flexible working is an important diversity issue in New Zealand workplaces.

Flexibility is one of the main tools for disabled people to secure and succeed in employment. Disabled people are currently less employed in the Public Service than the private sector.

Māori, Pasifika and Asian women face the compounding impact of gender and ethnic bias, leading to wider pay gaps than those experienced by Pakeha women. Normalising flexible working can help address ethnic as well as gender bias, by recognising and respecting the responsibilities employees have outside of their paid work, including cultural and/or religious responsibilities, and community and family/whānau care responsibilities.

The State Sector Act 1988 (see footnote 1 for obligations in the new Pubic Service Bill) and Crown Entities Act 2004 require employers to have personnel policies which consider the employment requirements of women, Māori, ethnic or minority groups, and disabled people. Flexible-by-default will strengthen the ability of agencies to meet these requirements.

Attracting and retaining talent

To ensure that the Public Service and wider State sector is an employer of choice in a highly competitive labour market, the sector will need to attract, develop and retain the best talent. Future- focused organisations understand that flexibility is a key part of their employee value proposition.

Research shows that expectations of flexibility and work-life balance have been growing among employees for some time. A survey of over 15,000 employees in New Zealand’s Public Service found that, even in 2013, over 80 percent of people had an interest in working flexibly8. In a more recent survey, New Zealand employees noted that work-life-balance was the second most important factor in seeking an employer, after attractive salary and benefits9.

We also expect that the COVID lockdown period of enforced remote working will have changed the flexible working landscape. While the scale of this change is hard to determine at present, organisations will be returning to a different working environment and increased demand for remote working as part of their flexible working offer.

Flexibility is a key enabler of talent retention. It supports transitions between, or blending of, work across different life stages, study, professional development, parenting, ill health or rehabilitation, retirement and more. Rather than requiring people to ‘opt in’ or ‘exit out’ of the workforce, flexibility can create a phased or graduated transition, optimising succession management and maintaining business continuity by maximising the retention of skills and institutional knowledge. Work-life boundaries have become increasingly permeable. Most people have expectations that work will blend with other parts of their life – rather than dominating it. For all these reasons and more, people value working flexibility and will actively seek it when selecting an employer.

Woman in high visibility vest and hard hat works on a construction site

Increasing employee productivity and engagement

Engaged employees are more productive. Reciprocity is central to workplace relationships. Research shows that when people perceive that their employer cares about their wellbeing, job satisfaction increases, and the employee responds through greater discretionary effort and higher work output (Gallup, 2020). The reverse is also true, with workplace stress and poor organisational health, reflected in high rates of sick leave and low rates of employee engagement. Workplace flexibility enables work to be tailored to both the employer’s and employee’s needs and can be changed over time as required. The result is more engaged employees and a more agile workplace. For an employer, this translates into higher productivity.

Supporting business continuity

Flexible working allows for better business continuity during and after a disaster has occurred. Covid-19, and all of the work disruption it has caused, will not soon be forgotten by organisational leaders, managers or employees. A number of agencies were prompted to upgrade their flexible working capability after the Kaikoura earthquake of 2018. Those who had not, will have learnt during the lockdown period, about what worked and what didn’t work and be compelled to be better prepared for the next earthquake, pandemic or other shock.


7New Zealand Workplace Diversity Survey 2019. Diversity Works New Zealand

8Plimmer, G., Wilson, J., Bryson, J., Blumenfeld, S., Donnelly, N., & Ryan, B. (2013). Workplace Dynamics in New Zealand Public Services. Wellington: Industrial Relations Centre, Victoria University of Wellington.

9Employer Brand research 2019: Country Report New Zealand. Randstad.

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