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Research into SME Workplace Flexibility and Organisational Performance

LIEBR – Knowledge is Power – Business and the Unknown

Invitation open to all businesses to take part in a leading-edge project which can benefit business.

In reply to the COVID-19 pandemic, at the Lancashire Institute for Economic and Business Research (LIEBR) Professor Philip B. Whyman and Dr. Alina Petrescu have designed a leading-edge, economics-based research project, called "Knowledge is Power - Business and the New Unknown".

This is a business research project aimed at improving the current understanding of business resilience and economic growth, via expert, science-based managerial and economics knowledge.

So much currently is unknown and businesses need help, policymakers need advice, new data and analysis are urgently needed.

We’ve used our many years of experience and put the foundations for academic research to support UK business longer term.

This survey has been designed with a great focus on what we think could help businesses. It will be repeated twice, with connections that we uncover having long-lasting meaning and value to business productivity and growth in the face of adversity.

Businesses in the UK, all sizes are welcome to fill in our survey – so, if you are a business owner/ manager, please click on this link and take the survey now:

Complete survey

At the Lancashire Institute for Economic and Business Research (LIEBR) Professor Philip B. Whyman and Dr. Alina Petrescu have been a conducting research into Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in order to assess the impact and relationships between workplace flexibility practices used in organisations and organisational performance.

The main elements of our research can be succinctly described as follows.

  • An SME is briefly defined here as an organisation with 0 to 250 employees.
  • Practices surveyed can be best described as workplace flexibility practices (WFPs) because they relate to the way in which an organisation changes flexibly in order to adapt to internal and external demands of the working life and the economic climate. WFPs include a large number of work arrangements and patterns aimed to enable employees and employers to adjust work activities. Theoretically, WFPs should benefit both employers and employees by allowing them to best suit their needs in relation to where, when and how work is organised. We also survey practices which are sometimes labelled high-performance working practices, such as total quality management, job autonomy, outsourcing, performance-related pay or quality circles.
  • Measures of organisational performance surveyed include objective financial performance indicators such as financial turnover or absenteeism.

Research description

The SME research in 2011 is a novel and extensive research project into practices which can best equip SMEs during the current difficult economic conditions as Britain recovers from recession.

Primary data has been collected via the SME Survey 2011 which is the second wave of our planned research series focused on the use of workplace flexibility practices by SMEs. It comprises two surveys:

  • at local level: The Lancashire SME Survey 2011
  • at national level: The British SME Survey 2011

Which organisations are surveyed?

The SME Survey 2011 expands the initial SME research in 2009 by following up the Lancashire-based SMEs respondents from in 2009, as well as by initiating a nationally-representative SME survey. The project involves conducting primary field research in summer 2011, currently ongoing until the end of August 2011. It samples a total of 10,000 SMEs, of which 1,500 organisations are located in Lancashire and 8,500 are sampled from a national dataset.

Which practices are surveyed?

We are interested in a wide set of practices, counting more than 40, used by SMEs as they try to compete in a climate of strenuous economic recovery after the recent recession in Britain. Examples of WFPs included in our SME Survey 2011 are:

  • voluntary redundancies;
  • shift to casual forms of labour;
  • training and apprenticeship programmes;
  • working from home;
  • part-time working;
  • agency workers;
  • management or staff pay cuts or pay freezes;
  • changes to pension schemes.

What will this research hope to achieve?

The main aim of the project is increasing the current understanding of how British SMEs cope with the current difficult economic conditions and the decisions they make related to their workplace flexibility profiles. Questions we hope to be able to answer are:

  • What impact to workplace flexibility practices have on organisational performance? (Currently, this question can only be investigated in relation to Lancashire based SMEs, but from 2012 onwards a national picture can emerge too).
  • How are SMEs changing the use of their labour force?
  • Which workplace flexibility practices associate with high financial turnover, low levels of redundancies and low absenteeism?
  • Which workplace flexibility practices are in use in 2011? Is there a geographical pattern? How does Lancashire compare with other regions in Britain?
  • How extensively have firms had to make redundancies in order to survive the recent recession and take advantage of economic recovery?

Answers to these questions can both inform policy makers and highlight best practice. Thus, the SME Survey 2011 will provide the valuable opportunity to bring to light new information about how organisations and the British economy can recover better from the recent recession.

We acknowledge the funding from the Undergraduate Research Internship Scheme (URIS) at UCLan which offers students the opportunity to work with UCLan academics on research projects. Our intern student at the Lancashire Business School this summer, for 10 weeks, is David Martin Jackson.

We also gratefully acknowledge the support for this research at the national level by the Forum of Private Business and the Federation of Small Businesses, as well as locally by the Preston City Council and the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce.

Note: If you were an SME organisation who completed our SME Survey 2011, please make a note of this file where reports/research dissemination opportunities shall be added in due course. The survey had been open until Sunday the 28th of August 2011 at 18:00.

Research dissemination

Conference Presentation: UCLan Annual Staff and Research Student Symposium, presentation by Dr Alina Petrescu: Whyman, P. B. and Petrescu, A. I. (2010) 'The effects of economic recession on small and medium enterprises in Lancashire". July. University of Central Lancashire, Preston, U.K.

Research Report: Whyman, P. B. and Petrescu, A. I. (2011) "Economic recession and workplace flexibility practices in Lancashire-based SMEs", Research Report, Lancashire Business School Workplace Flexibility Series, LIEBR,. University of Central Lancashire, March, ISSN 2064-9276. Available to download here.

Journal Article: submitted for publication in February 2011 (waiting for editors to reply), based on the working paper:

  • Whyman, P. B. and Petrescu, A. I. (2011) "SME workplace flexibility and performance during recession", Working Paper, LIEBR, University of Central Lancashire.

Note: Despite our initial intentions, it was not feasible to hold a seminar for the dissemination of results from the SME Survey 2009 Wave to the survey respondents from summer 2009. Similarly, the survey did not run in 2010. This was due to Dr. Alina Petrescu being on maternity leave (October 2009 - July 2010).

So we apologise to the 2009 SME respondents, who may have been waiting for a seminar date for research dissemination and offer them instead the chance to read the research report.

Moreover, we are doing our best in terms of continuous data collection: to compensate for not collecting data in 2010, the SME Survey 2011 also contains some retrospective questions covering the year July 2009- July 2010.

Research description

The SME research in 2009 was a large research project into SMEs workplace flexibility practices and organisational performance, conducted amid the difficult economic climate of the "credit crunch" recession in 2009.

Primary data was collected via the Lancashire SME Survey 2009 which was the first wave of our planned research series focused on the use of workplace flexibility practices by SMEs.

Which organisations were surveyed?

This 10-week project involved conducting primary field work in summer 2009 on a sample of over 2,000 Lancashire-based SMEs with regard to assessing the incidence, extent and links between workplace flexibility practices and organisational performance.

Which practices were surveyed?

We were interested in a set of practices encompassing over 60 WFPs.

For more information, please read the Research Report.


We are grateful to the Lancashire Business School for the financial support given to this research project as part of its Research Internships Funding Scheme in 2009. This scheme aimed to give students experience of real research projects as well as offer them the opportunity to gain excellent employability skills and a better understanding of the role that research plays in academia, practice and university life. In relation to this, we thank Michael Bowerman, who worked dutifully as the Intern Student at Lancashire Business School for 10 weeks in summer 2009.

We acknowledge the Preston City Council and the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce who have supported our research by name and logo.

Finally, we thank all the SME participants in the Lancashire survey, and we look forward to their repeat participation in our further surveys.