Flexibility means profitability

Small businesses are finding it pays to offer family-friendly policies and letting staff choose when and how they work. By AMANDA GOME.

By Amanda Gome

The union portrayal of small-business owners as tyrants running inflexible workplaces is a myth, according to a new report from Sensis. In fact, any SMEs offer very flexible workplace provisions and most offer part-time work and flexible start and finish times.

Employers also say this new flexibility has had a positive effect on their business and only 4% say staff abuse the conditions, according to the report. The skills shortage and new technology are also encouraging them to become even more flexible, with most planning further changes to obtain or retain skilled employees.

The report, Better conditions, better business, examined the views, experience and performance of 1800 small and medium-sized businesses (up to 200 employees), across a wide range of industries.

The overwhelming majority have unwritten informal agreements with staff. Relatively few use awards, human resources policies or AWAs.

Ninety-seven percent of SMEs have at least one provision to help employees in their work and caring responsibilities, the report says. “This is the first large-scale research looking into flexible workplaces of its kind in Australia,” says author Christena Singh. “It turns myths about small business owners being inflexible on their head.”

Some of the provisions seem fairly standard. For example 87% of employers provide access to a phone for family reasons, which quite frankly seems more like a right than a “provision”.

And 83% allow employees to choose the timing of annual leave and also give them the option of taking single days. Flexible start and finish times are offered by 73% of SMEs.

These are the three provisions employees use most. Another provision that is extremely popular with employees is letting them work from home. Although only 30% of businesses offer this, it is taken up by 83% of employees who have the option. The other popular provision, taken up by 60% of employees for whom it is an option, is onsite childcare, but only 5% of companies offered that provision.

Of note, family businesses are less likely to provide carer and family-friendly provisions than businesses that are non-family based.

And home-based businesses are more likely to offer onsite child care, the ability for employees to work from home and flexible start and finish times than non home businesses.

The gender of bosses and employees influences which provisions are offered. Where the workforce is predominantly female, almost all provisions are likely to be provided. Where women are the main decision makers, they are more likely to provide carer and family-friendly provisions.

And the caring attitude seems to pay off. SMEs that offer a large array of carer and family-friendly provisions to their staff reported very strong levels of performance.

Nevertheless there are concerns that flexible provisions result in the loss of productive time and increased costs. Although 42% of respondents felt there were no drawbacks, 23% felt they faced barriers in offering the provisions because of increased costs and 12% felt there was a loss of productive time, 12% felt it caused inconvenience on other staff and 12% loss of productive time. Only 4% felt that staff abused their conditions.

How do you compare?

  • Offer a phone for family reasons 87%
  • Provide flexible annual leave 83%
  • Offer flexible start and finish times 73%
  • Offer Part time work 61%
  • Ability to bring children to work in an emergency 60%
  • Offer unpaid emergency leave for casual employees 51%
  • Offer carers leave for other family members 47%
  • Provide unpaid parental leave 44%
  • Ability to bring elders to work in an emergency 44%
  • Offer carers leave for children 42%
  • Offer job sharing 40%
  • Ability to purchase additional leave 31%
  • Working from home 30%
  • Unpaid adoption leave 22%
  • Paid parental leave 19%
  • Onsite child care 5%
  • Subsidy for childcare 5%
  • Subsidy for elderly care 2%

Other perks offered by SMEs:

  • Staff loans
  • Ability to cash in leave
  • Counselling
  • Open door policy
  • Bonus incentive
  • Time off in lieu
  • Rostered days off
  • Payment for study
  • Meals
  • Extra insurance
  • Staff discounts.

Do you have any additional ideas for employee provisions? Do you find employees take advantage of provisions?

Email feedback@smartcompany.com.au


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