Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Business Honours

School

School of Business

Faculty

Faculty of Business and Law

First Advisor

Dr Maryam Omari

Abstract

Flexible work arrangements (FW As) have become an area of considerable interest. The reason for this increased interest is that flexibility has been found to offer organisations a competitive advantage and helps in attracting and retaining high quality employees (Carlson, Grzywacz & Kacmar, 2010, p. 330). FWAs do not only offer employees the opportunity to create a better work-life balance (WLB) their uptake has also been linked to increased organisational commitment, morale and job satisfaction. Work-life conflict, on the other hand, has been linked to negative individual, as well as organisational consequences. Research has, however, identified gaps between the FW As on offer and the accessibility and utilisation of these arrangements. This is generally referred to as the provision-utilisation gap in work-life policy. Research suggests that major factors that influence the decision to utilise FW As are gender equality, type of job and national and organisational cultures. It has been suggested that underutilisation of available FW As can be a serious problem for both employers and employees. This research aimed to investigate the factors affecting perceptions and uptake of FWAs at an Australian tertiary education institution (the University). Data was obtained through an on-line anonymous staff survey that consisted of both multiple choice as well as open-ended questions and was aimed at all part-time and full-time staff at the University. Out of the 1154 full-time and part-time employees at the University, 495 employees opted to participate in this study and completed the survey. The objective of this study is to provide organisations, legislators and the wider community with a better understanding of the factors affecting the decision to utilise FWAs. These findings can assist in narrowing the provision-utilisation gap, increasing the uptake of FW As and the organisational benefits associated with their utilisation, assist governments policy makers in making policies to break through the identified barriers and assist employers and employees to "foster healthier family lives" (Papalexandris & Kramar, 1997, p. 582). The findings from this study indicated that an employee's age significantly affects the uptake of different types of FW As. Parental arrangements were utilised most by employees aged less than 30 or between the ages of 30-45. These same employees were also more likely to utilise FWAs that allowed them flexibility in the time and place that work was conducted to look after their child(ren) while remaining employed. An employee's age and career stage were found to be comparable with both factors yielding similar relationships to the variety of FWAs, with employees in their early or mid-career utilising FW As most. The results indicated significant differences in the way that male and female employees utilise FWAs. Female employees were found to take up FWAs that allowed them to simultaneously fulfill their domestic as well as their work responsibilities, while male employees were found to take up FWAs that allowed them to further their knowledgebase or take up annual leave. The findings further indicated that an employee's family circumstances will affect their uptake of FWAs. Employees who indicated that they had no dependants were much less likely to utilise any type of FWA, while employees with dependants were highly likely to take up a variety of FWAs that allowed them to work around their family-responsibilities. The premise that knowledge workers that are central to the functioning of an organisation are more likely to obtain special considerations from their employer does not appear to ring true at the University. While academic staff were found to have a higher uptake of FWAs that allowed them flexibility in the place of work, their uptake of other FWAs appears limited due to their increasingly high workload. General staff were found to have a significantly higher uptake of leave arrangements or a reduction in hours. Not surprisingly, academics were also found to be significantly less satisfied with their current WLB. By identifying which employees are more likely to value certain types of FWAs organisations can ensure that these employees are informed about the available FWAs and that potential barriers are, wherever possible, removed. This will ensure that those employees that require flexibility to create a satisfactory WLB are able to do so. In addition to reducing the negative effects associated with the provision-utilisation gap, facilitating employees' WLB will be beneficial for organisations in terms of reduced absenteeism and turnover and increased commitment and performance at work. In addition, it offers organisations the opportunity to attract larger groups of applicants and a means to retain high quality workers. For those organisations employing academic employees these findings suggest that the increase in academics' workload is resulting in a reduction in the attractiveness of academic work. As the future of (Australian) universities as mass educators will depend on qualified staff, it is therefore imperative, for the future of education, that findings such as these are utilised as a trigger to investigate the expanding role of academics and the role that universities can play in combating their increasing workloads. The qualitative responses to the survey further suggested that there were a number of external factors that affected employees' utilization of FWAs. These included: the inconsistent application of FWAs by different managers, the staff shortages and intensifying workloads, an organisation's culture, the software utilised, a lack of awareness, a disparity between FWAs on offer and their accessibility and unsupportive co-workers also created barriers to the uptake of FWAs. Each one of these barriers would be suitable for further investigation.

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