Flexibility a winner for small businesses

SmartCompany, March 8, 2018

Offering your staff the ability to work flexibly not only boosts their morale and job satisfaction, it fosters trust between employees and their bosses and can save small businesses money too.

Those are some of the key takeaways from special research conducted by SmartCompany and MYOB to coincide with International Women’s Day.

Drawing on a research pool of close to 400 MYOB customers and SmartCompany readers, we wanted to find how important flexibility is to small business owners across the country and how they go about incorporating it into their business.

For our survey respondents, flexibility was nominated as the number one benefit from owning their own business. Sixty-seven percent of the survey respondents said owning their own business gives them the flexibility to do things the way they want, while 64% said they also benefit from working the hours they want, and 55% nominated being able to work from home as a key advantage.

Such flexibility was even more important for the businesses surveyed that have less than $75,000 in annual revenue. These businesses were much more likely to nominate flexibility in hours (84%) and working from home (78%) as the key benefits of having their own business.

While there was little difference between the responses from male and female respondents on this question, male business owners were more likely than female business owners to nominate the ability to make money as a benefit of owning their own business (42% compared to 19%).

We also asked survey respondents what flexible work options they currently offer their employees, or use themselves, as well as what they would offer if asked.

Out in front was flexible work hours, including the ability to vary start and finish times, at 84%, with 73% of business owners already providing this as an option and another 11% indicating they would be willing to do so if asked.

This was followed by allowing staff to take time off for family and religious commitments (72% overall) and part-time roles (48% said they offer this type of work and 21% said they would if asked).

Paid parental leave not widespread

The small businesses surveyed were much less likely to offer their workers job sharing options (9% offer currently and 27% would consider), and paid parental leave, which is currently offered by 12% of businesses surveyed. However, another 12% of business owners indicated they would offer paid parental leave if asked.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, paid parental leave was more likely to be offered by businesses with annual turnover of more than $2 million (27% compared to 12% of all businesses).

A majority of businesses agreed their workplaces are “very supportive” of women returning to work from parental leave (53%), and this figure was even higher for business owners aged below 40 (84%). For construction and trades businesses, however, only 28% said their workplaces supported women returning to work.

However, the business owners surveyed were asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement, “offering staff parental leave negatively impacts our business”, and only 32% disagreed. There was a more event split among operators aged under 40 (53% disagreed) and among SmartCompany readers (52% disagreed).

A majority of respondents disagreed with that statement that their business “tries to avoid employing women who may become pregnant” (65%), especially those with annual revenue above $2 million (84%). However, 51% of businesses with no more than one full-time employee agreed with that sentiment.

Why flexibility matters

Our survey respondents were overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of offering flexibility in their businesses, with 71% saying this practice increases morale and satisfaction among their workers.

Importantly, in a world where both business owners and employees alike can fall into the trap of being ‘on’ 24-7, 57% of business owners we spoke to said providing flexible work options reduces employee burnout and fatigue.

Providing a flexible workplace also builds trust between owner and employee (56%), increases employee engagement and productivity (55%) and ‘positions the business as an employer who cares for their employees’ (54%), according to those surveyed.

There can also be cost savings to the business as less sick leave is taken by employees or because staff are able to join the team in a part-time capacity, according to 52% of our respondents, while 47% believe offering flexible works helps encourage employee commitment to the organisation.

That’s not to say there are not some downsides too; 42% of small business owners said flexible work patterns can create difficulty when planning ahead, while a quarter of respondents feel staff can try to take advantage of the system. Other concerns include staff not working at the expected capacity (19%), a diminished sense of collaboration between staff (16%) and staff continuing to make demands, even when flexible options are offered (16%).

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