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According to merit?: Flexibility wins

Every Issue

Cite as: October 2009 83(10) LIJ, p83

A number of organisations with winning flexible work practices could provide inspiration for law firms.

Law firms, like any organisation, need to keep trialling and introducing new flexible work practices and policies.

Flexible work practices are not a luxury, but a necessity that benefits everyone - from partners to paralegals.

However, there is a need for law firms to find the right combination of flexible work practices that work for them, so it is helpful to know how other organisations are managing.

Therefore, I was surprised to learn about the Victorian government's Working Families Council Fair and Flexible Employer Recognition Awards 20091 from reading, not a practice management publication, but Melbourne Child.

In the interests of furthering flexible work practices in the legal profession, the following is a list of the first round of winners in the awards. And congratulations to Maddocks, the only law firm in this list.

Australian Council for Educational Research offers a range of flexible work practices including quality part-time work, paid and unpaid parental leave, giving pregnant employees priority car parking, allowing employees to elect to continue superannuation payments during parental leave and giving employees access to a maternal care room.

Autoliv Australia has flexible working hours, early finish on Fridays, monthly rostered day off (RDO), paid maternity and paternity leave and options to purchase extra leave.

The Building Commission offers compressed work quarters so employees can work an additional 38 hours within a quarter, without additional pay, and then take a five-day block of paid work-free days in the following quarter.

The City of Melbourne introduced a Working Parent Wellbeing program aimed at supporting employees with home stresses such as children's challenging behaviour.

Civic Hardware is a small business which introduced discussion of rosters before they are finalised, flexibility to reduce hours during pregnancy and then return on a casual or part-time basis, and optional weekend work.

ConnectEast offers job sharing, working from home, flexible start and finish times and the option to swap shifts with each other to meet personal commitments. The company is looking at a number of future innovations as well.

Maddocks offers non-standard hours, working from home, career break, part-time work, job share and "Keep in Touch" lunches held quarterly for employees on parental leave.

Manningham City Council has phased return-to-work, reduced working hours as a transition to retirement, taking single annual leave days for family purposes, consideration for employees caring for people with disabilities and flexible hours.

Monash University offers pre-natal, parental and adoption leave, parenting and child care support, online information for carers, work from home, unpaid career break leave and the option to reduce hours in transition to retirement.

Scuttle Clothing designs, manufactures and supplies uniforms and offers flexible start and finish times, flexible use of leave, part-time work, working from home, maternity leave stay- in-touch programs and child-care support.

Simplex Insurance Solutions gives employees a choice to work school hours and the flexible use of leave to attend to family.

St Johns Village work practices include the flexible use of leave, job sharing and an online choice rostering system.

University of Melbourne initiatives include paid maternity leave with a return to work bonus, job share and work from home, purchased leave, part-time work and access to two child-care centres operated for staff and students.

The Villa Maria Society provides elderly and disabled services across Melbourne and offers flexible start and finish times, leave at short notice, including annual leave and emergency relief leave, job sharing, purchased leave, paid maternity leave and flexible return to work options.

The Western Region Health Centre's arrangements include quality part-time work, flexible work hours and leave, job sharing and working from home and the option to work compressed working fortnights, which involve working 76 hours over nine days, with the 10th day a rostered day off.

WIRE - Women's Information provides free, confidential information, support and referrals to women across Victoria. It offers flexible start and finish times, purchased additional annual leave through 48/52 arrangements, an additional two days personal leave above award entitlements, paid parental leave and cultural leave, and it pays for and arranges child care when staff members are required to attend organisational meetings outside their working hours.

These are organisations that have policies and procedures that enable:

  • flexible start and finish times;
  • flexible use of leave;
  • job-sharing arrangements;
  • quality part-time work;
  • employee choice rostering;
  • working from home arrangements;
  • ways of allowing pregnant staff to stay in touch with the workplace;
  • the promotion of pay equity;
  • child-care support programs; and
  • other creative workplace practices to help employees balance work and family needs.

With all these initiatives to choose from, why not consider an open dialogue, survey or debate within your organisation about which ones to trial or implement.

There is a lot of incentive to get it right - for the benefit of everyone in your organisation, and for the success of your organisation in the long and short-term. Not to mention all the awards that can be sought if you do get it right . . .

SIMONE JACOBSON is a barrister and committee member and former convenor of the WBA.

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