Small business gets flexible to retain quality workers

The changing nature of the workforce means parental leave is increasingly important. AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Small businesses that invest in paid parental leave and other work-life balance programs are more likely to retain quality employees, a survey has found.

Charles Sturt University’s Stacey Jenkins looked at how 219 small and medium-sized enterprises across Australia tried to improve work-life balance for their employees.

The most common practices were flexi-time, which gives employees more control over which hours they work; additional paid parental leave; support benefits, and on-site care arrangements, such as dedicated breast feeding areas.

“If the employers were offering these it could have positive impact, with employees being more likely to take fewer sick days,” Jenkins said.

She said the research showed how important paid parental leave schemes are in maintaining a high quality workforce.

“Without them, it poses a real difficulty in employees being able to meet the needs of their families but also being able to stay within the workforce,” she said.

“For employers, the major benefit is in attracting and retaining staff, especially for employers in non-metropolitan areas where there’s a limited pool of qualified employees.”

The study found that all employees, not just those with families, could benefit from such programs.

“For younger workers or those who don’t have children or caring responsibilities, there’s still a need for them to manage their stress levels.”

Barbara Pocock, Director of the Centre for Work and Life at the University of South Australia, said increased flexibility is a growing trend for all businesses.

“Flexibility is certainly increasing and we know that many employers, including small businesses, understand that they have to respond to what their employees want in terms of work patterns,” she said.

“A lot of small businesses have invested in their employees, who know their business really well. They don’t want to lose those people.”

“That’s partly because of the changing nature of the workforce with one in two workers now being women,” she said. “But it’s also about making the best of the people who have experience and qualifications in the business that they’re trying to grow.”

Stacey Jenkins’ research has been submitted to the International Journal of Human Resources today.