Small firms shun flexible working

Fewer than one in ten smaller employers allow their employees to work flexibly, a new study has claimed.

The research, carried out by Virgin Media Business, covered firms employing a total of 22.8 million staff.

Of the 5,000 smaller businesses that took part in the survey, just 14 per cent had flexible working.

The main reason for not engaging with flexible working, cited by 43 per cent of respondents, is that smaller employers are worried that flexible and home working is less effective and would leave employees feeling isolated.

Cost was also seen as a problem. Almost a third of SMEs polled (29 per cent) said that the technology required to support remote working was simply too expensive to adopt.

The figures contrast with those for the very largest firms. The research found that over two-thirds (69 per cent) of companies in the FTSE 100 have policies in place that enable employees to work in a way that takes their home lives into account.

As the regulations stand, employees with children aged 16 or under can request to work flexibly, and employers are obliged to take such requests seriously, although they can be refused on good business grounds.

The right to request flexible working is to be extended to parents with children under the age of 18 from April 2011. A consultation on giving everyone the right to ask to work flexibly is due to be launched later this year.

Andrew McGrath, executive director of Virgin Media Business, said: "Given the vast difference in scale and infrastructure between a company employing 100 people and one employing 100,000 it was inevitable that we'd discover some big differences in their approach to flexible working.

"Yet with millions more people about to gain the right to request flexible working it's an issue that's going to face businesses of all sizes."