Yesterday, changes to flexible working arrangements came into effect with the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2014 extending the legal right to ask for flexible working arrangements from caregivers only, to all employees. The flexibility could be towards hours of work, days of work or place of work.
The requirement of six months' prior employment with the employer before asking for flexibility has also been removed, as has the limit on the number of requests for flexibility that an employee can make in a year.
The changes will also reduce the timeframe within which an employer must respond to a request from three months to one. Any refusals must now be explained in writing.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's acting manager - employment relations policy, Jivan Grewal, explains: "The changes to flexible working arrangements aim to improve participation in the labour market for people who would otherwise not be able to work because of competing responsibilities. Flexible working arrangements help employees find the right work-life balance for them and their employer."
Workplace provider Regus recently issued a report that canvassed 22,000 business people in more than 100 countries about their work environments and flexible working options after findings showed employees are closer to burn-out than they were five years ago.
The report noted that having a break from the main office - at least some of the time - was mentioned by 74 per cent of respondents to be seen as "a good stress reliever".
"Office tensions are rising, but flexible working provides a solution," says Nick Bradshaw, Regus New Zealand's Country Manager.
"In fact, 60 per cent of respondents believe flexible workers are better off. The experiences of those lucky enough to be able to work flexibly further support this."
Economic considerations that have made it hard for employers to increase salaries year on year have also created a push for flexible working arrangements as something to offer loyal employees instead of more money.
One company leading the charge is home catalogue company EziBuy, tailoring work-life solutions to its employees' needs and circumstances, including flexibility and part-time options. The company incorporates work-life balance messages in their induction process and promotes it as part of their Well Being Programme and EziTalk newsletter.
If you don't work for such a progressive company, but still want flexibility in the workplace, the department of employment has a Request Checklist to help you file a request to your manager that includes advice on how to approach the task, including offering a trial period to your employer and giving them plenty of notice. There are also guidelines for employers on the best way to respond to such requests, and forms that cover all the necessary aspects - including how to decline a request.
If you'd rather move from a full-time to a part-time position, then you'll be part of around 20 per cent of the workforce in that form of employment.
"Part-time work in New Zealand came into force during World War II when women joined the workforce to cover for the men stationed overseas," says Peter Cullen, partner of Cullen Law: The Employment Law Firm. "Since then, ways of working have continued to become more flexible for both genders."
Even though you're working fewer hours than your full-time colleagues, Cullen advises that you should still expect the same treatment from your employer - including training and career development, holidays and sick pay.
There's no legal definition of "part-time" or how many hours you must work to be considered in that range, so the legislation in place to protect workers is valid for all.
Part-time workers, though, may feel less valued than their full-time counterparts.
"The more investment you have in the business, the more likely the business is to put money into you," explains Cullen. "The reality of part-time work is that opportunities might not always come your way."
Cullen also says that employers often want to give people as much work as they can, so watch out for full-time workloads on part-time hours if you're moving into a shorter working week. He says there's a view that two 20-hour workers produce more than one 40-hour worker, so it can be a good option for employers as well as employees, but every case is different.
"There will always be an employer who treats staff badly and employees who are slack and rip off the workplace. That's human nature," says Cullen. "Whether there's part-time, flexible or full-time employment at question, it doesn't change the equation. There's just as much chance it will go well for all involved."
If full-time employment can't be found, some people are opting for a couple of part-time jobs to cover their expenses. A chartered accountant and director of Sands & Associates, Tony Sands, says these people may be deemed as independent contractors and their scheduler tax (formerly withholding tax), deducted by the employer, will be at the same rate if the same services are being provided for each of those part-time jobs.
"Where a person is doing more than one part-time job, they need to consider their employment status. If they are deemed as "employees" then they will have to declare the right tax code for the dominant paying job and a secondary tax code for the others," says Sands.
"If someone is considering moving from full-time to part-time employment, firstly they need to consider their employment status. If moving with the same employer to part-time there may be limitations as to what deductions they can make for expenses.
"It's worth having your accountant review your part-time employment contract to help clarify before you make the change."
More and more, employees are wanting to create a life for themselves that includes more than just a 9-5 grind. The changes towards flexible work arrangements and an increasingly open attitude by many employers towards alternatives to full-time employment is making it possible for staff to earn a living while also pursuing other passions.
And that's bound to create a happier workforce.