Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

August 29, 2000

Small businesses leading the way in family-friendly workplaces, researchers find

Canadian small businesses are keeping up with and sometimes ahead of their larger corporate rivals in creating family-friendly workplaces, according to a first-of-its-kind study by University of Guelph researchers released today.

They found that more than three-quarters of employers agree they have some responsibility to support their employees' efforts to balance work and family commitments, and 80% of small companies provide at least one flexible work arrangement (FWA) for their employees, usually on an informal basis. These FWAs include flextime, jobsharing, telecommuting, compressed work weeks and reduced hours.

"We were surprised at the level of flexibility a lot of small businesses are offering their employees," said Prof. Kerry Daly, project director for the study, which was conducted through the University of Guelph's Centre for Families, Work & Well-Being. "I would guess that a lot of potential employees contemplating a move from a large organization to a smaller one would also be surprised: people tend to assume that a major corporation can offer flexible work arrangements that a smaller business simply cannot because of its size, but we found that this is simply not the case. Increasingly, small businesses are making a concerted effort to balance the work and family responsibilities of their employees."

In Canada, 99% of companies have fewer than 100 employees, but until this report, little was known about the work-life initiatives being made available in small companies. "Thanks for finally surveying the little guys," said the director of a computer service company with 45 employees and a study participant.

The researchers found that informal flexibility is most often determined by employees' needs rather than formal practice or policy. "This seems to be the model that works best," says Daly. "More than just innovative work arrangements, employees want and need flexibility. They appreciate having choice even if they don't use it. They also appreciate the practice of FWAs rather than simply seeing formal policies in place."

What do employers get in return for providing FWAs? Respondents said that as a result of these arrangements they saw increased levels of employee productivity, loyalty and job satisfaction. FWAs also assist companies in recruitment.

In contrast, only one-quarter of owners and managers perceived that FWAs resulted in some decrease in productivity.

In addition to FWAs, the study finds that small businesses are using a variety of innovative means to keep their employees happy, including before and after school programs, tuition for employees and their families, housecleaning services, childcare subsidies, home computer upgrades and even on-site yoga courses.

According to the researchers, flexibility is a two-way street. Progressive employers report that they must balance their employees' responsibilities with their clients' needs. A good flow of communication and trust are critical, as is a sense of fairness. "If someone gets time off to do something, it affects everybody in the company," said one owner of a manufacturing company with 38 employees. "You have to balance the benefits of the individual with the responsibilities of the group as well." Adds Daly: "Flexibility works for families, it works for business. The two have to be compatible."

The researchers sent questionnaires to 2200 owners and managers of businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Companies were located in five provinces across Canada. More than 300 responses were received, from which focus groups with small businesses and managers were held in five cities across Canada.

"We wanted to find out what programs are in place, what motivated employers to establish them, and the challenges they face." The Centre's Beverley Rowbotham served as project manager for the study, and graduate student Jenn Rooney served as project assistant. The report, made possible through the support of the J.W. McConnell Foundation, will be disseminated to businesses across Canada as a discussion document of the sort of integrated models that could be adopted more widely.

Media may call Prof. Kerry Daly at 519-824-4120, Ext. 3109, or Communications and Public Affairs at Ext. 6982.

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