Why is it so difficult to find professional, flexible work?

Posted: 30/09/2018

At our recent Flexible Work Meetup (cohosted by SubUrban – Kathleen Wright, and Getaflex – Amy Prebble), we discussed the difficulty in finding quality flexible work.  The majority of jobs are advertised as traditional, full-time roles and it is still hard to track down professional flexible positions through recruitment agencies and traditional job boards.  Amy spoke about the following key reasons contributing to the lack of flexible jobs: 

The traditional full-time model has been around for a long time….and there is a reluctance to change 

The 8-hour working day was thought to have been introduced into New Zealand in 1840 by Carpenter Samuel Parnell.  When Parnell arrived in Petone – Wellington, carpenters were in high demand and short supply, and Parnell was able to negotiate 8 hour/day conditions.  Parnell was influenced by the 40-hour week movement which had its origins in the Industrial Revolution in Britain (when the working day could range from 10-16 hours, 6 days a week). 

Many employers still haven’t realised that our workforce is changing

The nature of our work and New Zealand’s demographics have changed considerably since the 8 hour day was introduced in 1840.  Yet our working model has remained the same.  We have an ageing workforce, fewer younger workers, more women working, severe skill shortages and the rise of new technology, which are all critical trends influencing a rising demand for flexible work.

New Zealand’s legislation has changed

In 2015, significant changes were made to the Employment Relations Act 2000.  All employees, men and women can apply for flexible work arrangements (not just caregivers).  You can request flexibility from your first day on the job (rather than after 6 months).  Your employer has to reply in writing within one month (previously three months), including an explanation of any refusal.

There is a strong workforce culture that challenges flexible working

Our workforce culture is focused on hours/days worked rather than outputs/results.  Presenteeism is strong in many workplaces (you need to be seen to be working), and flexible work is often seen as an earned privilege rather than a legitimate and standard way of working. 

Everyone working at the same time and same place is considered easier 

Some employers are concerned about flexible worker costs, impact on managers, client expectations, and staff capacity to do the work.  Addressing these issues requires a focus on the long term benefits for the organisation, rather than the short term change process.

Still seen as a working Mum’s issue, when in reality, flexible working is for everyone

As the diversity of the participants at the Meetup showed, there are many reasons why people are seeking flexible work.  It is a critical issue for senior workers, working parents (Mums and Dads), people with disabilities or illness (including stress), individuals who are starting a business, volunteering, playing a professional sport, pursuing an interest, and commuters.

Lack of awareness of the business benefits

The significant business benefits include attracting and retaining skilled talent, increasing employee engagement & loyalty (reducing turnover), increasing productivity, improving diversity in senior leadership, and greater resilience.


Meetup participants emphasised that this issue has been around for a long time.  While it is positive to see some progressive companies starting to advertise flexible jobs, we need to keep encouraging others to follow.  Together, we can advocate the benefits of flexible work for everyone, to establish a more productive, healthier, diverse and inclusive New Zealand workforce.

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