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How can SMEs become more family-friendly?

Competing against products and services from much larger companies comes with the territory for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. But should they also try to match big firms when it comes to parental policies? All the evidence suggests that SMEs can gain tangible benefits from supporting employees who have to juggle a career with raising a family.

A good work-life balance helps employees to perform at their best – which translates into higher productivity, greater loyalty and increased engagement[1]. However, many people find their jobs are becoming all-consuming. A UK study[2] found that 40% of employees neglect other aspects of life due to the pressure of work, with women suffering disproportionately more than men in terms of a poorer quality of life.

Research carried out in seven countries by Sodexo[3] shows that SMEs are certainly aware of the advantages to them of improving the work-life balance of employees. In a survey of more than 4,800 SME leaders, 84% believed that helping employees to balance their work and personal lives would increase their company’s performance. Crucially though, only 49% of them felt they could compete with larger companies in this area; a telling statistic that underlines just how many SMEs are unclear about how to be more family-friendly.

Balancing work and family duties is a key challenge for SMEs as they need to remain competitive in a labor market where the trend among larger companies is to offer parents greater flexibility. In fact, it’s a big enough issue to have caught the attention of governments. Singapore, for example, has launched a specific program to encourage SMEs to give working mothers more support[4] in a country where eight out of 10 mothers return to work after having a baby. Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo said last year that SMEs recognize the importance of supporting parents “but very often, they don’t know how to get started.” Clearly, the need to access childcare looms large at this stage of a couple’s life.

SMEs looking to compete with larger companies for talent can meet these needs with a broad range of approaches that can be tailored to support working parents.[5] Help with the provision of childcare, flexible timetables and work from home days, particularly when a child is sick, are well within reach of SMEs. In the UK, for instance, parents with children aged up to the age of 15 can exchange part of their pre-tax salary for Sodexo vouchers, which are then used to pay childcare providers via an internet portal. The government-supported scheme can save an employee around £900 (€1,100) a year on childcare costs, while saving employers some £400 (€500) in social security contributions. A survey of 1,200 parents found that 99.5% of them would recommend the scheme to others. In France, Crèche Attitude, a Sodexo company, has a similarly tax-efficient offering that allows employers to part-finance the cost of crèche places for their employees. Its network of 1,000 crèches care for 7,000 children a day, easing the strain on working parents.

Equally important, though, is for SMEs to realize they can call on outside expertise to help deliver those benefits – and so improve their business performance. A practical example of such external expertise is to offer working parents a concierge service that takes care of certain routine tasks, such as booking appointments, collecting items or ordering services.

While many SMEs have the impression they cannot compete with larger companies on parental policies, the reality is very different. Between the initiatives that can be deployed autonomously and the range of services that can be offered via third-party providers, SMEs can go a long way to easing the load on working parents. And as the research proves, happier employees are better employees.


Parental policies in action: a SME in Romania

For Network One Distribution, a SME distributor of mainly IT and electronics goods in Romania, providing a good work-life balance for parents is a challenge – but one that can be met in different ways and always provides a good return on investment. “We know that balance will never be perfect but, for example, we have provided free 10-week courses of 2 hours a week to prepare couples for parenthood,” says HR Director Eugen Floarea. “When the child is born, we provide gift cards, and every Christmas we organize a special kids’ party for about 120 children and 200 parents. We can also arrange working times to fit in with crèche arrangements, and if a child is ill, we always allow the mother to stay at home. We have done a lot for parents over the last two or three years, but there is always the feeling that we could be doing more.”


[1] Quality of Life: a BIG asset for small business leaders — SODEXO benefits and rewards services – 2015
[3] Quality of Life: a BIG asset for small business leaders — SODEXO benefits and rewards services – 2015

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