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Call for workplaces to catch up on family-friendly policies

Flexibility pays off: RedBalloon retail manager Liljana Petkovski at home with Zara, three, and Luca, seven months.

Flexibility pays off: RedBalloon retail manager Liljana Petkovski at home with Zara, three, and Luca, seven months. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Australian workplaces are playing catch-up with modern families and need family-friendly policies beyond ''mums and bubs''.

A review of workplace policies and practices by the Centre for Work + Life at the University of South Australia found an organisation's culture was the biggest determinant of work-life happiness and availability of family-friendly policies ''does not necessarily lead to their use''.

It warned that policies should not be seen as ''special consideration for working mothers'' and said they meant little if they were not supported by management.

''Part-time work is no longer pin money for housewives - it's actually people's career job,'' researcher Natalie Skinner said.

''No longer are working men the breadwinners. We're going through a period of transition and workplaces have to catch up with the way the population looks now.''

Ms Skinner said workplace culture was the catalyst for making a difference: ''Managers and supervisors embody and communicate the culture. Their support is what employees really pay attention to.''

Employees' caring responsibilities were a ''major issue'' in the workplace, with the majority of families having two working parents, more fathers becoming primary carers and many people having elderly relatives to look after.

Ms Skinner said organisations need policies that recognise caring responsibilities, including flexible start and finish times, time off during the day, quality part-time work, the ability to work from home and paid parental leave.

''It's really important we move beyond mums and babies,'' Ms Skinner said. ''Managers, supervisors, executives, men and women should have appropriate access to flexibility and leave so it is something that is normal and OK.''

Her research found part-time work can also mean fewer job opportunities and less financial security.

RedBalloon has retail manager Liljana Petkovski's ''undivided loyalty'' because they have been so flexible with her work conditions.

When Ms Petkovski joined the company as a casual, she was four months' pregnant. Before she went on maternity leave, she was guaranteed a permanent role upon her return to work.

After Zara was born, Ms Petkovski took nine months off before returning to work one day a week and building up to three days a week by the time her daughter was one. Ms Petkovski said having that flexibility was worth more than pay and maternity leave entitlements.

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