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From accountants PwC to the fast food outlet McDonalds there is one ingredient that any big firm can use to steal a march on their competitors. But it is also open to the smallest of employers.

Competitive advantage in the recruitment marketplace

With the unemployment level being the lowest since 1975 jobs are becoming harder to fill. Brexit may well exacerbate the shortage even further. Becoming an employer of choice may become essential to a business’s prosperity if not its survival.

Applicants tend to assume big firms have traditional working patterns, which is partially true. The small employer has the option to be more flexible more easily. But larger employers are catching up.

McDonalds, where 40% of their staff already work flexibly, have found that over two thirds of their staff would stay in their jobs longer if they could work more flexibly.

PwC have found that 46% of job seekers prioritise flexible hours and work-life balance as the most important factor when choosing a new job. Yet only 11% of jobs paying £20K+ (Full time equivalent) advertise flexible working. That is a missed opportunity.

PwC go further than just flexible hours and will consider employees working only a few months per year. Richard Branson allows the 170 employees on his personal staff to take holidays when they like for as long as they like.

So what is stopping you?

Undoubtedly consistent customer service is a concern for some employers; about a quarter of them (according to a recent survey). But, as consumers, most of us use telephone contact, email and online chat just as much as face-to-face. Technology can make the relationship almost seamless.

IT security risks concern others, about a third; according to the same survey. Clearly these have to be considered and cannot always be resolved, but resolving where possible could be a real benefit.

Teamwork. Working in a team is both motivational and effective. But those of us of a certain age can remember countless unproductive hours spent in extended meetings. Teamworking is invaluable for top performance but the concept that we all have to be in the same location for an entire working week is outdated (in my view). Technology offers great opportunities to resolve location issues but, if it resolved all issues there would be no business class on aircraft!

Capital investment in machinery. Having commenced my career in the steel industry I accept the importance of keeping capital equipment in continuous use. But scheduling software such as Workplace online offer solutions to both shift-work and to customer facing roles.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice