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The Police Association is encountering an upsurge in members raising issues over the handling of their applications for flexible employment options – or FEOs. CARLA AMOS speaks to several people impacted by alleged poor treatment. All but one did not want to be named or say where they worked in Police for fear of endangering their careers or reprisals from managers.

Sergeant Lucia Oldenhof is close to slamming the door on her near-30- year Police career.

“I'm going to England in April and I'm thinking about not coming back [to work] after.”

The North Shore senior prosecutor submitted a flexible employment options (FEO) application nearly nine months ago. She has had no formal response since. Its status is “pending endorsement”.

This is despite the Employment Relations Act 2000 stating that “an employer must deal with a request as soon as possible, but not later than one month after receiving it”.

Lucia wants to work part-time and submitted five options in her FEO application as well as saying she was willing to consider any other options proposed by Police – including dropping pay bands.

The 51-year-old wants a better work-life balance to be able to spend time with her husband, who recently recovered from cancer and has other health issues.

“I just can't keep working fulltime,” Lucia says. “It’s not fair on my husband. I got quite a shock when I realised he turns 69 this year. How much life does he have left, to be blunt? We want to enjoy our life but I still want to contribute to Police.”

Lucia says she just wants a formal decision on her FEO. “If they just said no, then I could actually say, ‘OK, you can't do it, all right. Then let’s sit down and talk about the options’. I feel like Police is just waiting for me to resign.”

'Just have a conversation'

Police Association senior employment adviser Catherine Bates says there has been a “groundswell” in members raising issues with FEOs this year – mostly around timeliness or failing to give a proper reason (as cited in the legislation for declining an application).

“People don't understand why, they just feel hurt and unheard. And it generates bad will. It doesn't bode well,” Catherine says.

The intent of Police’s policy is to support FEOs where possible, but Catherine is finding more and more managers are pushing back without genuinely considering each individual’s circumstances. She knows of one work group that imposed a blanket “no FEO” rule – even rescinding some that were already in place.

“Consistency is definitely lacking,” she says. “There are some managers out there who are really amazing, who are completely supportive of FEO arrangements, and managing that and finding solutions.”

She also concedes it’s not always easy when resources and funds are tight and a number of people in the same work group want FEOs. “It must be a nightmare to manage, I totally acknowledge that. But most issues can be solved through an early conversation and yet I have people on the books now whose managers won’t even engage in the first instance.”

Catherine worries that the frustration and disgruntlement caused by protracted FEO processes or decisions that are perceived as unfair or unjustified will see people leave Police. “In this economic environment, we can’t afford to lose good people.”

'Bad management'

Police News spoke to several Police Association members who have had bad experiences while trying to look after their wellbeing through FEOs. They are contemplating whether to stay in their roles.

One has already pulled the pin and left Police altogether.

One misconception, Catherine says, is that FEOs are about parents with young children wanting flexibility to manage childcare. FEOs are actually mostly around work-life balance, she says. “It could be study, it could be personal circumstances, it could be health, it could be family.”

One employee says he had an informal arrangement to work from home a couple of days a week to avoid five days of long commutes and to allow time to look after himself physically and mentally. Then, out of the blue, he was told he had to be in the office for all of his 40 hours.

In an effort to return to how it was, which he says worked well for him and for the business, he submitted a formal FEO application. Six weeks later – outside the notification period – his request was declined. He says none of the grounds cited for refusal were in the Employment Relations Act. For instance, there are no issues with the quality of his work and there is no cost to the organisation because he is already set up at home.

He believes it’s a result of bad management. “They don't know when or where people are working, or who's doing what. That just needs managing, not a default no to an FEO. Don't tar everyone with the same brush, look at everybody individually.

He is considering looking at other options. “If this is how you're going to be treated, is it worth staying around?”

'Lost trust and confidence'

Another staffer has already decided it’s not worth it. She no longer works for Police after her existing FEO was scrapped by a senior leader without consultation because he wanted to reinstate the pre-Covid culture of staff being mostly in the office.

“I asked, if I applied for a new FEO… and use the same reasoning as last time, will my FEO likely be approved? I was told no. So, I could have put my efforts into applying for an FEO that was going to be declined, or I could have put my efforts into applying for other jobs. I put my efforts into applying for other jobs.

“I had lost trust and confidence in the senior leader [who wasn’t adhering to the] ‘flexible by default’ sentiment of the FEO policy and they weren’t following it. I thought, if they can just ignore policy there, then what other types of policy could they ignore?

“I really wanted to work for Police for so many years… ‘FEO by default’, when I read that in the policy, that was one of the reasons that I wanted to join.”

'It's a system problem'

Provision for flexible working arrangements was a deal breaker for another Police employee. She specifically asked about work from home options during her interview and was told it was definitely supported.

“So I completed my FEO application and about 10 weeks had gone by before I'd heard anything. It was ‘no’ with no discussion about any other options. The door is closed.

“It’s really unfair. Work from home options were an important factor in deciding whether I would have accepted the opportunity or not. And then I had the rug pulled out from under my feet.

“It has broken my trust, this idea that if I work from home, I'm not going to get the work done or I'm not going to perform. They’re not establishing that relationship with me so that I can start proving myself. It's actually not a me problem, it's a system problem.

“Even if I was granted full pay at half FTE and work from home four out of five days, it just simply wouldn't be enough for me to want to stay where I am now. I'm hopeful something internal will come up.

“I really care about the work that Police do. I don't want to have to leave the organisation.”


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