Ageing population calls for new flexible work approach

by Cameron Edmond17 Sep 2013

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 14% of Australians are 65 or older, and this is expected to reach 23% by 2056. This will see an increase in the percentage of adults (currently 4.6%) caring for their own parents or other family members outside of spouses or children.

This shift means Australian employers must prepare to meet demands for flexible work arrangements to care for older family members.

“Many business owners talk of workplace flexibility in terms of balancing work and family exclusively in the realm of children,” Daman Patterson, group manager of people & culture at Chandler Macleod, said. “However, a trend is emerging, especially given the impending retirement of baby boomers, showing the current workforce will need to balance the demands of their work with the duty of care towards their parents and grandparents.”

The increase in age is coupled by a movement towards more ‘at home’ care, as opposed to placing the elderly in nursing homes or other forms of institutional care. Patterson highlighted that the modern family’s distance from one another and other changes in living arrangements adds an extra element of complexity to flexible working arrangements.

“While having children may be perceived as a choice, having ageing parents is a reality, and businesses need to enact workforce strategies to best manage this,” he said.

Although this may appear as a problem to some employers, Patterson stressed that it is instead an opportunity for employers to see the value of part-time workers. If they don’t, he warned they are likely to see these dedicated workers move to more accommodating competitors.

“Part-time workers are an asset to any businesses. Knowing they have the backing of their employer, for whatever situation they are in, will mean a more productive and happier employee and the company will reap the benefits,” he explained.


Key HR Takeaways

Regardless of reason, the reality of flexible working arrangements is they must be carefully factored into an organisation’s business model. Chandler Macleod offered a number of steps HR should take before launching flexible working initiatives:

  • Asses the feasibility: Chances are, flexible working arrangements are feasible. However, to what degree and in what form will vary dependent on team size, the type of work, and a number of other factors that must be analysed.


  • Outline the current arrangements: If you have launched initiatives in the past – or your predecessor has – it is important to review them before making changes.


  • Facilitate discussion: Discuss the current arrangements and what could be done to improve them with employees, and allow them to raise any queries or issues they may have.


  • Ensure there is no stigma: It is important to make sure the organisation’s culture is facilitating to flexible arrangements, and that employees will not come under fire or ridicule  for taking them.


  • by Yvonne Walker 17/09/2013 2:50:46 PM

    An additional takeaway for HR is surely that employers shouldn't just assume what the right flexible arrangements are for their employees - ie "facilitate discussion" should be where the process starts. A Company that has a good understanding of what individuals need and want, and can tailor its flexibility arrangements around that, is much more likely to succeed in implementing practices that work for most, than a Company that decides what its employees want simply on the basis of analysing their age or sex or race etc...

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