Small businesses see benefits of flexible working, but fear extension

More than half of small businesses find flexible working benefits their business, but they are concerned that extending the right to request flexible working could increase administrative burdens on them, according to new research. 

More than half of small businesses find flexible working benefits their business, but they are concerned that extending the right to request flexible working could increase administrative burdens on them, according to new research. 

The right to such arrangements is currently limited to those with responsibility for caring for children under 17 (18 if the young person is disabled) and carers for adults, but from April it will be extended to parents of children under 18. The Government is also to consult on extending it to all employees.

Research with directors and senior managers of 83 small businesses in the West Midlands by Jane Johnson, a Research Fellow in the Law School at Coventry University, found over 60 per cent thought that the current rules on flexible working did not hinder the operation of their businesses.

Almost as many (54 per cent) were very positive, citing such benefits as increased staff motivation and staff retention.

At the moment, there are strict legal and procedural requirements when an employee applies for flexible working arrangements, though employers have the right to refuse any such request on specified grounds.

Over half (52 per cent)  felt that that these legal procedures were unnecessary because employees would, in most cases, have been allowed to work flexibly anyway.

The research also shows 57 per cent believed the further extension of the right to flexible working was a step too far because of the perceived administrative burden. 

Jane Johnson said: “The right to request flexible working arrangements is one of a number of moves to improve work/life balance.  However, where the benefits have long been recognised, the need for extending the right is more doubtful in today’s economic climate.

“Many of the businesses we talked to thought that any further extension of flexible working would increase the burden of administration and increase costs at a particularly challenging time for them.”





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