Small employers expand telecommuting and flexible work, in line with worker preference

While the number of small employers offering telecommuting and flexible schedules was already on the rise before the pandemic, the global health crisis accelerated the adoption of these flexible work policies.

One third of small business workers say they’ve left their job because of inflexible hours and the inability to work remotely

This trend shows no signs of slowing, as nearly 7 in 10 (68%) small firms say offering more flexibility  telecommuting and flexible scheduling) is a major priority.

Top factors determining where employees choose to work:

  1. Compensation
  2. Benefits
  3. Flexibility

This is a major plus for workers and goes a long way toward meeting their needs. Flexibility (both the ability to telecommute and have flexible scheduling) ranked third behind compensation and benefits as a top factor impacting their decision around where to work. This is especially true for younger workers.

Two in 5 (40%) members of Gen Z say they’ve switched employers in the past 2 years due to inflexible work arrangements Implementing flexible work policies also has positive implications for mental health and overall well-being.

While the pandemic prompted some advancement, few small businesses — or their workers — reap the benefits of more effective leave management practices

Over the past several years, outsourcing leave management — such as short-term disability (STD) and Family Leave and Medical Act (FMLA) — administration has increased among employers of all sizes. However, the most significant growth recently has occurred among small firms.

The primary motivations for these businesses to outsource were in response to the growing complexity of pandemic-related leave regulations and the ever-growing list of states that have enacted their own paid leave laws.

Similarly, the pandemic prompted many small firms to integrate their Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) administration with their STD and FMLA administration.

Three in four employers who recently integrated ADA with STD and FMLA administration say the pandemic was the impetus²⁰

Despite this progress, overall, small firms lag larger ones when it comes to more effectively managing employee leave. Guardian’s Absence Management Index, which measures the strength of employers’ absence management practices across a number of best practice areas including use of technology, offering the right resources to employees, and outsourcing, found that large organizations scored higher (average score: 6.1) than small organizations (average score: 5.5).²¹

Less sophisticated leave management practices affect employees as well as HR leaders. Benefits integration especially contributes to more positive absence management outcomes, as offering the right resources to the right employees at the right time can improve incidence and can decrease duration of disability leave. An integrated absence model requires fewer steps for employees and ensures they gain access to the benefits and resources that will be of greatest help.

Many small businesses are also taking action to become more accommodating of workers returning from a leave of absence due to a serious illness or disability. This is likely a result of the pandemic forcing many workers to take an extended leave of absence, either because they were ill themselves, or to care for a loved one.

The number of small firms that say they prioritize providing accommodations to employees returning to work following a serious illness or disability increased 18% between 2019 and 2022.

People want to work for organizations that care

How inclusive and empathetic an organization’s culture is can have a profound effect on workforce well-being. That’s because workers who feel their employer cares about them also feel empowered to bring their whole, authentic selves to work. That level of psychological safety positively impacts their emotional health and overall well-being.

Employees who are a part of a corporate culture that values inclusion, supports diversity, and encourages empathy generally report 70% better well-being than those whose organizations don’t offer this support.²² They’re also 25% less likely to experience anxiety and depression.

Only half of small business workers agree their employer cares about their well-being, the same as in 2019

Unfortunately, only about half (51%) of workers at small firms agree their employer cares about their overall well-being. This likely has serious implications for employee attraction and retention.

One way to close this gap is by developing robust diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies. Not only has prioritizing DEI been shown to help organizations’ bottom line, but there’s also a strong connection to employee retention and loyalty.

This can be accomplished in many ways and doesn’t necessarily require significant resources. Establishing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, for example, on even a small scale can go a long way toward making employees feel cared for and part of something bigger than themselves.

A corporate culture that's inclusive, caring, and encourages civic engagement boosts overall well-being, happiness, and loyalty. This can take many forms, from social justice responses to CSR to ensuring language in communications is inclusive and representative of all employees. No matter what direction an organization takes, building a flexible, empathetic culture empowers employees to be their best selves at work and in life.


19 Small Business, Big Benefits. The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. 2018.

20 The Path Forward: Managing employee absence beyond the pandemic. The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. 2022.

21 Ibid

22 New Era, New Values. The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. 2022.

23 Ibid

24 Ibid

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