More than a third of SMEs offering flexible working to reduce absenteeism, study finds - Thorne Widgery

Over a third of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are offering flexible working hours in a bid to support their staff, compared to just under a quarter of larger firms.

35 per cent of SMEs that have up to 249 employees are combatting absenteeism with flexible working, compared to just 23 per cent of firms with a workforce of more than 250 people, research carried out by lobbyist group GRiD found.

“The larger the workforce, the easier it is to offer flexible working but the harder it is to monitor it,” said Katharine Moxham, a representative for GRiD.

“If smaller businesses are making this work as an absence-management solution though, there is no reason why the larger businesses couldn’t do the same.

“It’s encouraging to see small businesses employing creative ways to target absence,” she added.

“There also seems to be a greater propensity among SMEs to arrange return-to-work interviews for similar purposes.”

Following legislative changes in 2014, there is now an option for everyone with at least 26 weeks of continuous employment to request flexible working hours – not just employees that have children or carer responsibilities.

GRiD’s research also highlighted that ‘return to work’ interviews are most common in SMEs at 17 per cent compared to large firms at 13 per cent.

“It’s evident in the report’s figures that smaller and larger organisations take a very different approach to managing absence, and whilst that is perhaps to be expected, an area where all could benefit is by better utilising the support that exists for employers, line managers and employees at no extra cost,” said Ms Moxham.