Flexible working – can it really work for small businesses? Or is it just for corporates?

12th April 2018

If you think that flexible working is only something big corporates can offer, you’re mistaken. Many small businesses offer this, to attract the best people. Here’s a bit more about what it is and how it works.

What is flexible working

There are so many variations of flexible working which make it feasible for different industries and sectors employing large and small numbers. The main types of flexible working are:

  • Part time: Working less than full time hours
  • Job sharing: two people split one job
  • Compressed hours: Working full time hours over fewer days
  • Working from home: Rather than working in an office some or all of the time
  • Flexitime: Employee chooses when to start and end work within certain hours eg 7 hours between the hours of 8am-6pm
  • Annualised hours: Employee works certain number of hours over the year but there is flexibility when they work

How can it help you attract great people?

To attract the best staff, you need to be open-minded. In today’s competitive recruitment environment, flexible working is a core part of workers’ expectations. People aren’t coming to work just to earn money – they want to be happy and thrive.

A study of UK businesses and employees by HSBC found that nine in ten employees (89%) consider flexible working to be the biggest motivator to their productivity levels within the workplace – a view shared equally among male and female employees (87% and 90% respectively) – and more so than financial incentives (77%), which is great for small businesses that can’t always afford to pay ultra competitive salaries.

Why people want flexible working?

The reasons why employees request flexible working are varied. It could be because they are seeking a balance in their life, perhaps for childcare, needing to care for family, lifestyle and many others. There is still an assumption in some companies that working part time will stall promotion or be seen as a detriment to career paths, but this needs to change.

A quick overview of how to introduce it in your business

Most companies will have a flexible working policy and form to explain to your staff how the process works and how to apply. You should put the onus is on the employee to put forward what flexible working pattern they are looking for, along with thought out reasons about how they can make it work. The employee really needs to show they have given it thought, and played through situations that could occur if the pattern was accepted and how they would overcome them.

Then upon receipt of the application, you and the employee need to meet and discuss the flexible working application. This is time for you as the employer to get into the detail, and talk about alternatives and things that need to be considered. After the meeting you need to write to the employee with a response either agreeing or denying the request.

Why it’s worth offering it

So why should you give it a try, is there any business benefit to allowing employees to work flexibly? Well, yes there are….

  1. Reduced Cost – By allowing an employee to work flexibly you are often reducing your salary costs. E.g. if someone reduces from 35 to 21 hours per week you are paying less money in wages. Kerbing costs like this can really benefit your bottom line and the amount of profit you are making.
  2. Increased loyalty – You may be surprised at the increase in loyalty you receive from your employee for accepting their request. By allowing legitimate flexible working requests from employees you value, you will see gratitude and appreciation, and this in turn is likely to lead to an even more motivated employee.
  3. Increased productivity – Employees who have been given the trust to work flexibly tend to make sure they are putting in what they need to make it work. The employee knows that they have to deliver, so often you see more productivity to get the job done as efficiently as possible.
  4. Reduced levels of sickness absence – Allowing employees to have more time to do what they need to do out of work, will in turn help them to balance their life and can often lead to less short term absence.
  5. Creates a culture of trust and environment where employees feel like they are grow ups 

Allowing flexible working gives employees some control over their schedules and autonomy to get the job done at a time that suits them, rather than a culture of having to be in the office. Flexibility reduces the culture of having to be at your desk to be working, in fact employees who are given the scope to work at home are often more productive than office workers, as there is less distraction.

So, if there are so many benefits, why say no. Well in some cases, there is a real reason why working part time or flexibly just won’t work and there are a list of legitimate reasons you can give if what’s being proposed just isn’t feasible:

  • Extra costs will damage the business
  • The work cant be reorganised among other staff
  • people can’t be recruited to do the work
  • flexible working will affect quality and performance
  • the business won’t be able to meet customer demand
  • there’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
  • the business is planning changes to the workforce

There is no reason why you can’t allow a flexible working pattern on a trial basis. If you see some merit in it, and after reading this can understand why it may be a positive for you and the employee, give it a try (just make sure you clearly state the period of the trial and review dates).


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