Is flexibility the magic bullet for SMEs?


Almost half of smaller employers in Britain cannot find the skilled staff they need locally, with high recruitment costs and a saturated market placing further obstacles in the way of their efforts to recruit.

Research commissioned by business communications provider Inter-Tel Europe has revealed that 46 per cent of SMEs are having problems finding the skills they need to succeed, a six per cent rise on similar research conducted in 2004.

More than one in 10 of the 400 HR managers questioned also complained that the cost of recruitment and a saturated market hindered effective recruitment of new employees.

"For many SMEs, growth will hinge on recruiting the best people available," said Inter-Tel's Chris Harris.

"But high-calibre candidates are becoming an increasingly rare commodity for SMEs as lucrative city packages tempt the prospective staff away."

Productivity also emerged as a problem, with a third of firms battling against absenteeism or lateness, for which a quarter said their business incurred unexpected costs.

Almost one in five cited unmotivated staff and high staff turnover as prohibitive to productivity

But as work-life balance becomes the prime consideration for employees, SMEs could hold an ace up their sleeves.

Despite the fact that nine out of 10 SMEs currently have fewer than one in 10 of their workforce working from home on a regular basis, almost half accept that offering staff flexibility will improve their attractiveness as an employer while a third recognise that it will improve staff productivity.

But as the research highlights, many SMEs find the flexibility maze a difficult one to navigate and remain confused as to what flexible working actually entails.

One in seven HR directors said that flexible working is a policy that allowed staff to work from home, remotely or at a third party site. A quarter thought it means having job share arrangements, while four out of 10 believe it means having a flexible hours policy.

"The trick here is to understand that flexi will mean all of these things in line with what business models dictate and what individuals demand." Chris Harris said.

"Becoming a flexible employer will require devising a robust all-encompassing model, but it can be done relatively easily and effectively with the right know-how and technology.

"Seeking advice from companies that have already adopted flexi working to learn from their successes and mistakes will also help determine how you manage the HR side of things. Taking a strategic approach to flexi-working could help many SMEs achieve their growth ambitions in a more effective way than they thought possible."