Australian small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are showing greater interest in being benchmarked and accredited under nationally recognised standards that aim at a family-inclusive workplace, particularly when it comes to paid parental leave, a commitment historically offered only by larger corporations.
In a Family Friendly Workplace report published by Parents At Work, a social impact business advisory group supporting employers to embed inclusive practices, and UNICEF, data revealed SMEs are the fastest growing sector at 55 per cent stepping forward to be evaluated under the National Work + Family Standards, and SMEs are outpacing larger sectors. However, across the board, employers of all sizes still fall short of being considered family-inclusive.
In the last 12 months, the number of qualifying SMEs now certified represent 38 per cent of all certified employers. When benchmarked, however, almost two thirds of all employers fell short of the minimum National Work + Family Standards.
Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents At Work, explained that the results of the benchmarking clearly show that it’s time for some businesses to play catch up on embedding practices that support greater work life wellbeing and gender equality, especially after the pandemic.
“SMEs have a lot on their plate, but it’s really encouraging to see there’s a growing interest in learning and adopting better family-inclusive workplace practices for the benefit of their employees, knowing it will ultimately be good for business as well,” said Walsh.
Walsh said the benchmarking reveals to organisations that fall short of minimum expectations where there’s work to be done to come up to speed and reap the benefits.
The National Work + Family Standards, which was launched in May 2021 with the support of corporate Australia, provide employers with a benchmark of guidelines that support their workplace to be family-inclusive.
The low unemployment rate in Australia combined with post-pandemic worker expectations for flexible working as a standard in corporate workplaces has seen employers give greater attention to ESG and their social responsibility to employees. This is reflected in the report, with employers acknowledging flexible working arrangements to continue as a requirement for employees in the future.
Walsh said people want to work more for employers that understand and support them to thrive at home and work. The work-life balance is a universal challenge for all employees, whether they work in an SME or in a large corporation. No matter the size of the organisation, companies must create workplaces that are culturally fit for an employee to manage work with home life and caring commitments, particularly if these companies want to attract, retain, and see productivity, Walsh said.
"Greater flexibility and work life balance is consistently reported as a priority for employees. Certification enables organisations to set a roadmap for being more inclusive of their employees’ work and home life needs, and sends a clear signal to employees that their work-life wellbeing matters,” said Walsh.