Small firms benefit from being 'family-friendly'

Industrial and Commercial Training

ISSN: 0019-7858

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




(2000), "Small firms benefit from being 'family-friendly'", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 32 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Small firms benefit from being 'family-friendly'

Small firms benefit from being "family-friendly"

Keywords: SMEs, Employment

Family-friendly policies towards employees are good for business. This is the message now for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In research conducted by the independent Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and published by the UK Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), the clear findings are that SMEs stand to gain as much from family-friendly employment practices as large corporates with national reputations for looking after their employees.

Co-author and project leader, Stephen Bevan (associate director at IES), points to improvements in employee recruitment and retention, attendance, productivity and morale, in companies adopting policies such as family leave, child-care allowances, flexible working, homeworking and job-sharing.

Welcoming the research, Margaret Hodge, UK Minister for Employment and Equal Opportunities, said:

This DfEE-funded research dispels the myth that only large employers can afford to offer flexible working arrangements which enable employees to balance work and home. The truth is that no employer can afford to ignore the business benefits such arrangements can bring. We need to get this message across loud and clear.

Perceptions among smaller employers that being family-friendly implies a burden of costs and bureaucracy are misplaced. According to IES co-author, Stephen Bevan:

Many small and medium-sized businesses are concerned that the pressure from both employees and from Government to become more "family-friendly" means increased costs and red-tape. However, our research shows that this need not be the case and that, on the contrary, being "family-friendly" can yield real economic and business benefits.

IES identified 11 SMEs and conducted detailed case study analysis within each. Business and employment data were also collected and analysed. The companies were drawn from sectors including manufacturing, services, pharmaceuticals, publishing, software development, logistics, and research and development. They ranged in size from 26 to 500 employees, and were chosen because they had implemented a range of policies beyond the statutory minimum.

The key business benefits of family-friendly employment practices identified in the study included:

  • Reduced casual sickness absence: most employers felt that sickness absence due to employees' caring responsibilities had been reduced. This was reinforced by employees who felt more able to be honest about absence because of dependants' illness.

  • Improved retention: each of the firms was able to identify individuals who had stayed with them longer because of their access to family-friendly provision. Most could estimate the number of employees who would have left had such provision not been available.

  • Improved productivity: many of the firms were convinced that employees working flexible hours were more productive than those working traditional hours.

  • Improved attraction: the firms felt that ability to offer family-friendly practices can attract potential recruits both at the point at which they apply for vacancies and when they are making comparative judgements of job offers.

  • Improved morale and commitment: most firms believed that morale and commitment among employees with caring responsibilities were enhanced by such policies.

Copies of the full report (RR136), Family-friendly Employment: The Business Case, are available priced £4.95 by writing to DfEE Publications, PO Box 5050, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6ZQ. Cheques should be made payable to "DfEE Priced Publications".

A report summary may be found at: or

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