The State of Flex in the Australian Workforce


A special edition report of DCAs Inclusion@Work Index 2021-2022 titled Mapping the State of Flex in the Australian Workforce highlights a positive link between flexible work and workplace inclusion. It shows that the stigma around care, gender and flexible work continues. Concerningly, the report reveals a significant gap in the uptake of flexible working between men and women. The report also offers practical steps for addressing issues around flex and caring in your workplace.

Early findings

Flexibility is linked to workplace inclusion:

  • There is a positive link between flexible ‘flex’ work and workplace inclusion. Brilliant news for many employers, who have been forced into alternative working structures during the pandemic and have struggled to quantify the impact these changes may be having on team cohesion and culture.
  • Female and male workers using flex were significantly more likely to report being in inclusive teams, having inclusive managers, and working in inclusive organisational climates compared with female and male workers not using any flex options.

Half of male carers experience exclusion:

  • Almost one in two men with caring responsibilities who access flexible work (flex) are experiencing exclusion at work.
  • Men using flex report significantly more discrimination and/or harassment at work compared to male workers not using flex options, as well as compared to female workers using flex and those not.

Little change in the gender flex gap, meaning little change for pay inequality

  • Despite predictions that the ‘working from home’ revolution brought on by COVID-19 lockdowns would lead to more equal uptake of flexible work by men and women, there is still a significant ‘flex’ gap.

Flex and carers - what you can do

Challenge assumptions about flexible workers:

  • Use DCA’s Myth Busting Flexibility guide to challenge myths about the ‘ideal’ worker as someone with few personal responsibilities who can be on-site all day every day and are always available to meet business need. In fact, research shows that managers with caregiving responsibilities are rated by their staff as better managers and have more satisfied staff than managers with no responsibilities.

Develop policies that encourage men and women to share the care in your organisation:

  • DCA’s Let’s Share the Care at Home and Work report sets out how women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work, lack of workplace flexibility and time out of the workforce are key contributors to the gender pay gap
  • Workplaces can help address these gender inequalities by ensuring that flexible work is available to anyone for any reason and introducing ‘shared’ care parental leave so all parents have equal paid leave and can access this flexibly.

Recognise different types of caring:

  • There are over 2.65 million carers in Australia, almost 11% of the population, who provide unpaid care and support to family members and friends who have a disability, mental illness, chronic condition, terminal illness, an alcohol or other drug issue or who are frail aged.
  • Workplaces that recognise and make adjustments for carers can experience significant benefits including staff retention, improved productivity and job satisfaction of employees, which in turn reduces recruitment and training costs.

Measure and understand your workplace flex metrics:

  • Include questions about flexibility in your inclusion or pulse surveys to measure and track how much flex is accessed in your organisation, what type of flex is accessed, who is using it (e.g., is it just parents/carers of children? Is it mostly females? etc.), drop off points where there is less uptake (e.g., certain managerial positions, business units), and if your employees accessing flex are as satisfied, secure and included as those not accessing flex.

Use DCAs Future-Flex Guides Mainstream Flexibility through Team Design:

  • This report shows that flexibility is good for inclusion. But it must be done properly. DCAs experience is that a critical stumbling block for organisations trying to mainstream flexibility is that managers and employees struggle to redesign work and jobs in ways that are sustainable and improve performance and wellbeing.
  • DCAs Future-Flex guidelines were developed for employers across all sectors of the economy, to help organisations and emphasise the need to move away from ad hoc arrangements for individuals and towards involving their teams to redesign work.

Explore the early findings of DCA’s Inclusion@Work Index 2021-2022 and access practical solutions to the issues raised by downloading the report Mapping the State of Flex in the Australian Workforce below.

This report presents a comparison between respondents identifying as male or female as the number of non-binary/gender fluid respondents (0.4%) in our sample was not large enough to meet statistical analysis requirements.

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Suggested citation: Diversity Council Australia, Inclusion@Work Index: Mapping the State of Flex in the Australian Workforce, Sydney, Diversity Council Australia, 2021.