Flexibility ignored by SMEs

2004

The flexible working revolution has passed by most SMEs in the UK, according to new research, with over two-thirds of small firms reporting that they have no flexible workers at all.

A survey of 300 firms by Inter-Tel survey found that three-quarters of SMEs said the legislation on flexible working introduced a year ago has had no effect on them.

Almost one in five firms (18 per cent) said that they had chosen not to adopt flexible working policies, something that suggest that they may not be aware of their legal obligation under the legislation to reasonably consider all flexible working requests.

Only one per cent of firms had one in three or more of their staff working flexibly and only seven per cent of companies questioned have one in ten or more of their employees working regularly from home.

Other similar surveys have come to similar conclusions. Panasonic found that almost two-thirds of workers were unaware of their rights under current legislation to ask for a flexible hours and four out of ten would feel uncomfortable raising the issue with their employer.

Research carried out last year by Investors in People found that over half of SMEs identify administration as the main barrier preventing them introducing flexible working initiatives. A quarter see cost as the main barrier, while only 14 per cent failed to see a bottom line benefit to adopting flexible working.

The Inter-Tel survey paints a similar picture. More than one in three firms said that their business model precluded flexible working while one in five cited a perceived difficulty in managing remote employees as being the main barrier to its adoption.

But Inter-Tel’s Chris Harris said that neither was a show-stopper. "There seems to be a common misperception that the flexible working directives are all about the employee and not about the employer. But the reality is far from it," he said.

"As SMEs struggle to keep costs down as floor space and recruitment and retention costs explode, flexible working has to be an extremely feasible performance enhancing strategy."