Work-life Balance for Small Businesses

Flexible Working: Challenges for BusinessThe work-life balance for small businesses is achievable, according to a new enquiry into flexible working, but employee and employer culture and attitudes need to change.

New Year is a time for making resolutions, and many of those returning to work this week will no doubt be thinking about how they can improve their work-life balance, finds ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) as it publishes a report into flexible working.

The report, entitled Flexible Working: Challenges for Business, reveals that the UK’s existing working culture needs to be challenged to enable flexible working to flourish, especially within small businesses.

The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Small Business Group (APPSBG), supported by ACCA and sponsored by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), confirms that flexible working can benefit business – large and small.

Evidence submitted to the APPSBG showed that Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are already using flexible working, but they often do not use this term. Also, employers do not always understand what their rights and responsibilities are if they use flexible working practices.

Andy Love MP, chair of the APPSBG, says:

“For flexible working to succeed, support needs to be given to small businesses; all employment law should be designed with small business in mind. Government should ‘think small first.’

“Many small businesses claim that flexible working is a burden. The possible extension of the right to request flexible working to everyone could put an even bigger strain on SMEs, especially when the economy is beginning to emerge from recession.”

Helen Brand, chief executive of the global accountancy body ACCA, says:

“I am an advocate of flexible working. I try to work flexibly and lead by example. I can see the benefits flexible working brings to a global organisation, but I can also see how a small business could see a request for flexible working as an annoyance. But managed properly, it can work and does bring benefits. We have to remember that a SME owner has the right to refuse a flexible working request if it does not fit with their business model.”

The report into flexible working for SMEs offers 10 recommendations to make sure that flexible working works for everyone. These include:

  • The perception that flexible working is an arrangement for parents and carers only needs to be challenged as it can cause resentment in the workplace amongst other employees.
  • Any extension of the right to request flexible working should be on a voluntary basis. SMEs need a transition period to check their suitability for the scheme and to try out new working models in practice.
  • The benefits system is too inflexible and does not support people who wish to work part time. The situation, where couples are often forced to take one full time job instead of two part time ones because of the way the system rewards full time working. In particular, part time work should not simply be seen as something available to only low skills workers.

The enquiry took evidence from a range of experts in the small business and flexible working fields, including the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, British Chambers of Commerce, Small Business First, Working Families and Women Like Us.

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