For small business, flexibility is worth the big cost

flexibility
Amanda Woodard

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written on December 7, 2017

While small business aren’t as well resourced as larger ones, this doesn’t mean flexibility should be taken off the table. Here are some of the upsides.

Flexibility is the watchword for 2018. Multiple reports are telling us that employees are valuing it even over wages and that the generation entering the workforce wants flexibility more than most.

The problem is that small and medium-sized businesses aren’t catching on to modern work practices. In new research from business software provider MYBO, only half of small and medium-sized organisations offer flexible working arrangements compared with almost three-quarters of large businesses.

Ironically, many small business owners say that one of the reasons that they started up their companies was so that they could enjoy more control and flexibility in their own lives.

“Business owners see the benefits of flexible working arrangements on their own lives, but aren’t always passing on these benefits to employees,” says Tim Reed, CEO MYOB.

The research found that 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 between 10 to 19 employees, just 13 per cent provide this benefit.

According to the Fair Work Act, Australian employees have a legal right to request flexible working arrangements from their employees but new findings from MYOB’s SME Snapshot research reveal just half (54 per cent) of SMEs are offering this to their employees.

It’s easy to understand that SMEs don’t have the same resources to draw upon as is the case with larger organisations. And 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.

But Reed believes the advantages “materially outweigh the costs”.

“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.”

Ben Thompson at business software company, EmploymentHero makes the point that if “As a manager, you can’t trust your employees to work when you can’t look over their shoulder to check on them, you have to ask why you hired them in the first place?”

While the employee benefits of flexible working are easy to see, Thompson points out the upside for small to medium-sized employers that might not be immediately obvious.

  • When you don’t need to house all your employees on site, you can make significant savings in real estate rental, as well as power and other day-to-day operating costs.
  • Even if you own your own office space, by freeing up some of your floor space you can earn additional income through leasing.
  • Offering flexibility often translates into higher retention levels. Employees find it’s harder to leave a job that offers a work-life balance, even when faced with a promotion or the inducement of more money.
  • And of course, when your employees don’t have to work on site, you don’t have to recruit from a local talent pool. This means you can look further afield to find exactly the right person with the right skill-set to fill those vacant positions.
  • As more people choose different options for greater work-life balance, many skilled workers are choosing to work part-time over full-time. As a business owner or manager, you can benefit from getting the skilled help you need but without having to pay a full-time salary. For example, your business may be able to afford the services of a CFO three days per week, whereas hiring that person full time would be out of the question.

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