Employment Issues in Small Business.

As part of the ISBE Event Bursary Scheme, on October 2nd Aberdeen Business School at Robert Gordon University was delighted to host a targeted event on Employment Issues in Small Business.

Employment is one of the key issues small businesses face in the various stages of growth. It is a challenge for which small business owners are not trained, likely inexperienced and can often become very anxious of. While much of our knowledge focusses on business start-up and the encouragement of entrepreneurial activity, we tend to neglect the more practical aspects of growing an enterprise into a sustainable and developmental employer. This event sought to shine a light on this and draw attention to the confusion and challenge many face when dealing with the employment of people for the first time.

We welcomed over twenty delegates. While most were small business managers, we were also joined by a number of HR advisors who specialise in small businesses. The event programme addressed three key areas, found to be most crucial to small business employment, these were: legal issues of employment; leadership and delegation; and employee identity.

Legal issues of small business employment

To address the tricky and myth-laded issues of employment law, Margaret Downie of Robert Gordon University’s Law School provided a terrifically interactive and insightful session on the distinctions of agency work, the ‘gig economy’ and the key rights of the worker which small businesses cannot ignore. The delegates were keen to explore the various definitional issues around agency work and ‘gig’ employment, especially focusing on some unexpected implications for workers’ rights.

While specific and detailed legal advice can be expensive, often putting small businesses off the idea of employment, Margaret was able to clarify some the key areas entrepreneurial leaders need to consider. This knowledge hopefully provided the small business owner/managers with the confidence to approach employment, more aware of the aspects they don’t know and will need structured assistance with.

Leading the business and its people

As we moved through the morning, after a coffee and pancake pit stop, we discussed the challenges of leadership and people management. Dr Emmanuelle Rey-Marmonier of Aberdeen Business School put the delegates at ease by explaining the various reasons it can be hard for a small business owner to manage people effectively. A nod of acknowledgement was seen across the delegates as she explained how small business owners can be too busy running their business to focus on the difficult task of managing and developing employees.

In order to provide the delegates with some take away tools, the notions of ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ were discussed, addressing the needs of development in people and the benefits which can be gained from employee participation and engendering loyalty. Importantly, Emmanuelle left the group with a practical and easily applied tool for delegation. This sought to alleviate some of the common concerns of small business owners: how to offer for autonomy in others without compromising that internal locus of control over their business which is so important.

Organisational and employee identity

As a final input session, Dr James Cunningham, from the Department of Management at Aberdeen Business School, discussed his work on employee identity. This had a particular focus on looking at non-family employees in small family firms, but it was clear from the delegates that such issues are common, whether in family firms of not.

Unintentional exclusion, favouritism, privilege of centralised knowledge, and a fear of ‘outsiders’ all built into a colourful discussion, characteristically using The Godfather movies as a clear example of all such problems.

Panel session

To draw the event to a close, Margaret Downie and Dr Emmanuelle Rey-Marmonier were joined by Donna Gibb from ‘Law at Work’ – a national provider of expert employment advice for small businesses – to take part in a panel Q&A session covering the topics of the day. The main outcome form this engaging panel was the clear distinction that employment issues in small business are very different to those in larger firms equipped with a professionalised HR function. What was made clear, is that support is available, either through Universities or the various advice organisations of the industry.

After a networking lunch, and lots of discussion on what the next ISBE-sponsored event would be, we let the delegates get back to their respective businesses and encouraged them to put into practice any learning they had taken from the day.


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