Flexible working and unusual job perks in Australia
- 29 October 2014
- From the section Business
It is often "Marilyn Monroe Day" at one small business in Sydney, Australia.
Staff at the firm in question - Filtered Media - really love the famous Hollywood actress.
But rather than sit around and watch her films, each of the 13 employees instead gets a fully paid extra day's leave, a "Marilyn", to celebrate their birthday.
Named in reference to the night in May 1962 when Monroe famously sang Happy Birthday to President John F Kennedy, the workers can take the day up to a week either side of their actual birthday.
For Filtered Media's founders and bosses, husband and wife team Mark and Heather Jones, the unusual perk is all part of their efforts to offer their team a good work-life balance.
Staff also get two additional paid days off each year called "Yolo Days". Yolo is short for "you only live once", and workers are encouraged to take them spontaneously.
Yet rather than Filtered Media being a wacky anomaly, it is instead part of a growing trend among Australian small firms - particularly those based in offices - to allow their staff to work more flexibly.
'Rise to expectations'
For Mark Jones, 40, it is all about making Filtered Media - which does public relations work for corporate clients - an enjoyable company to work for.
"Work is a place we spend a bulk of our lives, so it must be respectful and flexible," he says.
"The Yolo Days are not to be planned in advance, they are days when you wake up and just don't feel like facing the world.
"Or a day when the sun is shining so brightly you must be out in it."
Although Filtered Media's staff members predominantly work in the office, they can choose to work elsewhere.
Mrs Jones, 39, explains: "It's about results and trust, not location or hours. One senior manager works every Friday from home as part of her regular arrangements as her commute is quite lengthy.
"Others can work from home on agreement with their manager, so if they are working on a proposal, or writing and need focused time, or a child is sick, or just because.
"We find in life and business, people often rise to the expectations you have of them."
It is a similar story at fellow Sydney small business In Marketing We Trust, which was founded by Frederic Chanut last year.
His digital marketing company now employs 10 members of staff, but only three of them regularly come into the office.
"Most of my team work remotely, as it suits their lifestyle," says Mr Chanut, 31.
Currently he has staff working from home at places across New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and even abroad in Mexico City, and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
"I set up the business to have systems and processes designed for complete flexibility in terms of staff location," he says.
"I do however try to keep everyone working for at least three hours together in the morning Sydney time. This ensures that any issue is resolved quickly, and also enables real-time communication."
Given the sunny weather and easy access to the beach enjoyed by most Australians - 85% of the population live within 50km (30 miles) of the sea - it is perhaps unsurprising that having the option to work flexibly is popular in Australia.
In fact, one in five Australians made a request to work flexible hours last year, according to a report by the Centre for Work and Life at the University of South Australia.
The study also says that staff who are able to work more flexibly are both happier and more productive.
However, Yvette Blount, an expert in flexible working at Macquarie University's Faculty of Business and Economics, says that many firms - both large and small - remain suspicious.
"A lot of managers have trust issues," she says. "Is that employee really working? Or are they sitting at the beach?
"Of course with the right manager and staff you get... the cost benefit of reduced office space, and even increased productivity, which is backed up by research."
For friends Fiona Anson and Alli Baker the realisation that more Australians wished to work flexibly was the inspiration behind setting up their company Workible last year.
Workible is a flexible job website designed to match workers with positions that fit around their lifestyles.
Ms Anson, 55, says: "On more than one occasion we mused that if a dating site can match love interests, why can't a job site match availability interests?"
Workible now has 30,000 users, and Ms Anson says numbers are growing strongly - rising by a quarter every month.
She and Ms Baker, who both used to work in marketing, have eight members of staff at their office in central Sydney.
"We knew we'd spotted the start of a wave that would see the way we work change dramatically," adds Ms Anson.