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Flexible working: Governments "Must 'Think Small First" on Employment Legislation


20 Jan 2010



What Is Flexible Working? A simple question, but one that many small businesses (SMEs) aren't sure how to answer. Whether or not they can answer it, evidence collected in a new report by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), written in conjunction with the UK All-Party Parliamentary Small Business Group, shows that SMEs are often actively engaged in offering flexible working opportunities to their staff, even if they are unaware that what they are providing is 'flexible working'.

Flexible working practices, such as part-time hours or job sharing, provide businesses with several advantages, because they allow businesses to retain the services of staff who may want to reduce their work hours, or allow them to attract staff they otherwise could not afford. Crucially, in times of economic difficulty, flexible working provides employers with plenty of flexibility themselves. There is also a positive environmental angle, with fewer people needing to commute as they work from home, less office space needing to be resourced, or even just less congestion as people work staggered hours.

The informal usage of flexible working helps reduce paperwork and costs for both employer and employee, but the report shows that in the UK, the formal right to request flexible working could soon be extended to SMEs. This could increase the administrative burden for SMEs just as the economy is attempting to recover from recession. SMEs comprise approximately 99% of all firms, employ between them about 65 million people and are responsible for driving innovation and competition

For flexible working patterns to continue developing, much support needs to be given to smaller companies. To prevent vulnerable SMEs being hit with new costs or inappropriate working practices, governments have to 'think small first, which means that any new legislation needs to be designed from the bottom up and then adapted to the needs of larger companies".

Flexible working needs to be designed based on the business model of each SME and the demands of the particular positions, rather than being imposed through legislation, which would place a significant administrative burden upon them and risking exposing then to a significant competitive disadvantage.However, while employers must consider flexible requests on their merits, it is vital that SMEs, with small staff numbers and limited administrative resources, while considering such request, maintain the right to refuse any flexible working request if they are likely to damage the business.

Helen Brand, chief executive of the global accountancy body ACCA, says:

"I am an advocate of flexible working. I try to work flexibly and lead by example. I can see the benefits flexible working brings to a global organisation, but I can also see how a small business could see a request for flexible working as an annoyance. But managed properly, it can work and does bring benefits. We have to remember that a SME owner has the right to refuse a flexible working request if it does not fit with their business model."

More research in this area is needed, both at national and EU level. There is currently a real dearth of thorough longitudinal data which can show how small businesses have responded to past legislation changes.

- ends -

For further information, please contact:

Cecile Bonino

+32 (0) 2 286 11 37

+44 (0) 7809595008 

Committee secretariat and contact for inquiries

Veena Hudson, Head of Public Affairs

+ 44 (0)20 7059 5615

Notes to Editors

1) ACCA is proud to be providing secretarial support to the APPSBG. The report on SME Access to Public Procurement is available from ACCA’s website:

2) ACCA is the global body for professional accountants. We aim to offer business-relevant, first-choice qualifications to people of application, ability and ambition around the world who seek a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management. We have 362,000 students and 131,500 members in 170 countries worldwide.

3) ACCA has worked with governments, national organisations and development agencies in emerging economies- for over 20 years- promoting the accounting profession, to create value for the communities, businesses and individuals it serves.

4) ACCA believes that globalisation of business means that one set of reporting standards is essential. We favour the principles-based IFRS.

5) ACCA understands the real issues facing small businesses as 63,000 of our members work in SMEs or small partnerships worldwide.


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