Flexible working a challenge for SMEs

The SME sector in Australia is lagging behind when it comes to offering flexible working arrangements to encourage work life balance.

According to the Fair Work Act, Australian employees have a legal right to request flexible working arrangements from their employees but new findings from the MYOB SME Snapshot reveals just half (54 per cent) of SMEs are offering this to their employees. This is compared to 73.9 per cent of bigger businesses* (20 -199 employees) who provide flexible working, highlighting small businesses have a way to go when it comes to embracing modern work practices.

Bigger businesses and micro businesses offer flexibility

The research found very small businesses (up to four employees) offer flexibility with two thirds (66 per cent) of businesses offering some form of flexible working. However, when business size increased to 10 – 19 employees, just 13 per cent provide this benefit. This finding is interesting when compared to earlier research that found Australian business owners rank flexibility as a high priority for themselves, with 41 per cent stating they started a business because they wanted to control their own destiny and 33 per cent because they wanted the flexibility to do what they want, when they want. When asked about long-term goals for their business, more than one quarter (27 per cent) of business owners nominated increased flexibility as their key goal.

Tim Reed, CEO of MYOB, said, “Business owners see the benefits of flexible working arrangements on their own lives, but aren’t always passing on these benefits to employees. Offering employees flexibility can add to the complexity of running a business, but it also brings great benefits including increased morale, reduced burnout, access to a larger talent pool and increased trust within their workplace.

“I encourage all business owners to think more about the benefits of offering increased flexibility to their employees; my experience is that the benefits materially outweigh the costs.”

Businesses believe flexibility improves morale

The advantages of flexible working cited by small-business owners included increased morale (59 per cent), reduced burnout (45 per cent), and increased engagement and productivity (43 per cent). Almost half (43 per cent) of SMEs also stated that offering flexible work options positions them as an employer who cares for their staff. However, the research found 42 per cent of all SMEs are failing to monitor the health and wellbeing of their staff.

Businesses believe planning more difficult

When asked about the disadvantages of offering flexible work arrangements 34 per cent stated it made business planning harder and 16 per cent stated flexible working diminished the sense of collaboration between staff.

“Implementing technology like collaboration software and cloud-based systems streamlines business processes and allows employees to be more productive, encouraging collaboration and teamwork,” said Reed.

“By putting policies and technologies in to place that can facilitate flexible working conditions for all staff, business owners can reduce the stress of planning around employee needs.

“Offering flexible work will help SMEs attract the best talent and lower attrition rates, decrease absenteeism and achieving greater productivity through increased employee job satisfaction. It will give small businesses a long-term competitive advantage over big businesses by attracting great employees that makes their business stand out,” Reed concluded.

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