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Kiwi workers and employers want more flexible work

24 July 2006 Media Statement

Kiwi workers and employers want more flexible work options

Forty per cent of New Zealand workers say they need and want more flexible work options according to a new report on work-life balance, Minister of Labour Ruth Dyson announced today.

The report, Work-Life Balance in New Zealand: A snapshot of employee and employer attitudes and experiences, finds that 55 per cent of employers do not see barriers to their ability to improve flexibility.

“I am heartened that employers are open to considering new ways of organising their workplaces. In support of that, employees report a very real understanding of the business imperatives of their employers,” Ruth Dyson said.

The report was launched by the Minister at a forum of workplace leaders in Wellington today. The Quality Flexible Work Summit - hosted by the Minister in association with the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust, Business New Zealand and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions - is discussing ways to ensure New Zealanders have access to quality flexible work arrangements.

“The report will be a useful talking point as we move to finding more innovative ways of increasing productivity, and making work an even more rewarding experience for workers and employers,” Ms Dyson said.

“Work-life balance is about effectively managing the juggling act between paid work and other activities that are important to us - including spending time with family, taking part in sport and recreation, volunteering or undertaking further study.

“A fundamental shift in the New Zealand labour market over the past six years means that unemployment levels are expected to remain under 5 per cent for the foreseeable future. With record high numbers of people taking part in the labour force and continuing skill shortages, the days of readily available labour are over, probably forever,” Ms Dyson said.

“This means workplaces need to become even more flexible to continue to attract and retain the people we need, in an increasingly competitive local and global labour market.” The report and today’s summit are part of the government’s Work-Life Balance Project, launched two years ago to improve work-life balance for New Zealanders.

Many employees report that work makes it hard to participate fully in family life. Forty-one per cent say work sometimes or often makes it difficult to enjoy or spend quality time with family, and 46 per cent sometimes or often find it hard to get home on time.

“It’s coming through very clearly that more flexibility and work-life balance will improve New Zealanders’ quality of life, enjoyment of work and overall living standards. There has never been a better time for workers and employers to engage on this issue,” Ms Dyson said.

Background

The Work-Life Balance in New Zealand: A snapshot of employee and employer attitudes and experiences report was based on the first national surveys commissioned by the Department of Labour on employer and employee attitudes about and experiences of work life balance.

Thirty-nine per cent of employees say they work extra hours in their own time every week to get the job done; 19 per cent work more than 50 hours a week and 43 per cent have some kind of care responsibility.

Other key findings of the Work-Life Balance in New Zealand report include that:


• A little over half of New Zealand workers rate their work-life balance as good to excellent.
• But 40 per cent of workers said they have some or a lot of difficulty getting the balance they want.
• 55 per cent of employers said there were no barriers that could ‘put them off’ having flexible working arrangements.
• But 40 per cent of employers said they needed to have everyone in the workplace at the same time.
• And 33 per cent of employers said flexible working arrangements were too complicated. 17 per cent said they were too expensive.

The report outlines some very simple and effective strategies that could make a difference to employees’ work-life balance - such as more flexible start and finish times, more input into rosters and shifts, flexible break provisions and study leave.

Long hours and working at night are identified as making work-life balance harder for some people. Workplace culture is also a factor – with 60 per cent of employees saying aspects of their workplace culture made work-life balance harder, particularly the expectations of workmates and managers.

The report finds that many employers recognise their staff face work-life balance issues, and the majority have taken some steps to offer some work-life initiatives. But a number are grappling with how they deliver flexible arrangements.

An example of a company that has successfully worked with the Department of Labour to develop its flexible work options is New Zealand and Australia’s largest fashion and home catalogue company EziBuy. EziBuy’s experience will be one of a number showcased at the Quality Flexible Work Summit today. (Case study below).


Note to journalists: The report was prepared by Department of Labour work-life balance expert Dr Lindy Fursman. The report summarises and analyses the findings of two national surveys, one of 1100 employers and the other of 2000 employees, which were conducted during 2005. These are the first national work-life balance surveys commissioned by the Department of Labour, and were conducted by Research New Zealand Ltd.

The report will be available on the Department of Labour website www.dol.govt.nz/worklife/ or by calling 0800 20 90 20 during business hours. Further information about the Summit is also available on the website.


Case study: EziBuy embraces work-life balance

The fashion and home catalogue company, EziBuy, is an example of a company that has successfully simplified its work-life balance measures to improve outcomes for both the company and staff. EziBuy’s success will be showcased at the Quality Flexible Work Summit in Wellington today.

EziBuy is New Zealand and Australia’s largest fashion and home catalogue company. It is a privately owned company and employs about 650 staff, working in its contact centre, distribution centre, retail outlets and administrative offices. Its workforce is predominantly female and about half the employees belong to a union.

As EziBuy has grown, its business has become more complex and it has faced increasing competition for staff. It faces particular challenges in offering flexibility to contact centre and retail staff.

In 2005, EziBuy became one of the pilot organisations in the Department of Labour’s Workplace Project which is endeavouring to develop tailored work-life solutions for New Zealand employers. At that time it offered a number of flexible work arrangements including:
• Part-time work
• Flexible starting and finishing times in some business areas
• The ability to use sick leave to look after family members
• Shift times set up to appeal to particular groups eg parents, students

However, these initiatives were not consistently communicated or managed across the organisation, and EziBuy saw the Workplace Project as an opportunity to take a systematic approach to work-life balance in order to improve recruitment and retention, and help manage overtime and workloads.

The pilot project began with the formation of a working group which includes representatives from staff, management and the one union to which staff belong. This group used staff surveys, focus groups and interviews with management to identify work-life balance issues from employee and business perspectives.

As a result, a number of initiatives were offered across the business including the ability to swap shifts in the contact centre, and staggered shifts in the retail outlets to give staff more certainty around their hours and to better meet the needs of customers.

EziBuy believes the pilot is working well due to:
• Management commitment
• Good communication
• Initiatives being offered across the organisation, but tailored to individual work groups
• An enthusiastic partnership approach to developing and implementing initiatives
• Acknowledgement from everyone that initiatives needed to work for the business and employees

The next stage for EziBuy is to further promote work-life balance internally, including through its induction process. EziBuy is also exploring how it can include work-life balance measures in its performance management programme.

ENDS

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