Karen Ovenden: How can SMEs approach family-friendly working?


Flexible working has become a bit of a buzzword. But, for me, this is where small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should start if they want to support family-friendly working.

When I say flexible, I really mean agile, working patterns that can scale up and down when both the individual and business requires it. Truly agile working goes beyond flexi-time policies, which tend to be fairly rigid. As a small business, you can embrace flexible working in its truest sense.

To make a tangible difference to working parents in your team, you need to take an individual approach. Blanket schemes are not going to cut it when employees need to attend a school appointment or care for an elderly relative. Life simply does not adhere to core hours, and an organisation’s approach to family-friendly working needs to reflect this.

Practically speaking, how can SMEs achieve this? I am writing from the perspective of an employer with 20 staff. I have operated an open-door policy for many years, and agility is deeply embedded within our workplace culture.

I talk to employees on a case-by-case basis, understanding what they need and how we can still deliver business priorities. There is a great sense of give-and-take, trust and transparency.

If this is all new to your organisation, I would start with a conversation. You need to understand what working parents need before you can start delivering it. Explain that flexible working is something you are exploring and you would like to understand how it could help work-life balance.

Try and notice how your team are doing too. Is someone struggling to arrive on time after the school run? Ask what you can do to help.

When developing family-friendly staff benefits, we listened to what would help our team. The summer holidays are challenging, so we developed a holiday childcare benefit. As everyone has different needs and preferences, we implemented a flexible scheme that contributes towards a holiday club of choice, instead of restricting parents to a particular childcare provider or area.

SME budgets can be a challenge when trying to deliver family-friendly staff benefits, so my advice is to get a bit inventive. Eschew traditional corporate schemes and instead focus on what is going to be most relevant to employees’ lives.

My belief is that our personal lives will always be the most important thing in our worlds, and all businesses should acknowledge that. Go on, start that conversation today.

Karen Ovenden is co-founder and operations director at recruitment software organisation Hireserve.