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Managing a workforce is a top consideration for small business owners and managers across the UK, from finding talent to managing absence and keeping track of payroll and benefits information. 

According to Moorepay’s recently launched The Engaged Employer report, that three in four SMEs (77%) are struggling to recruit and two-thirds (64%) are finding it difficult to retain suitably-qualified staff. One in three (34%) SME employees surveyed also said their employer provides no benefits.

However, for owners who are already wearing multiple hats, time and budget pressures can hold them back from getting the right systems in place to manage their teams properly. We’ve spoken to the experts to help you understand how to find the right SME HR platform for you, and rounded up five of the best.

Choosing the right HR system for your small business

“It is not unusual for me to meet small business owners who need to hire staff to keep up with customer demands but don’t have the time to find the right people and get them started. But there is a lot of easy and cost-effective help available”,  explains David Vine the CEO of bookkeeping provider Ozlop, “Without the luxury of a HR or finance department essential business admin will be your responsibility, so you need to look for ways to get the best resources, using the wide variety of cheap yet really effective HR software now online will bring huge gains.

“Obviously the business of hiring staff needs your attention, but once you have chosen the right candidate, you can use your HR system to automate much of the remaining legwork – whether that’s sending out job offer letters or, further down the line, tracking staff holidays and absences.  It even creates up to date employment contracts, potentially saving money with employment lawyers.  The online system effectively becomes your HR department and some providers include employment law advice as standard”, adds Vine.

The investment benefits are numerous according to Michelle Hobson, HR Services & Technology Director, at Moorepay “there is a multitude of reasons why SME owners should invest, and they all come down to either saving time and money or ensuring compliance. HR Software and employee self-service not only provides an improved experience for all involved in HR processes, but a business may also be able to save headcount by moving away from manual processes. Furthermore, in areas such as managing absence through your software business can reduce your absence rates by as much as 20% by just having that real-time and live data.”

Talent is kind for Mathias Linnemann, CCO and Co-Founder Worksome, who sees talent as a way for small businesses to get ahead, “they’re also able to quickly adjust to changing demands, scaling staff up and down efficiently to meet changes in demand in various parts of the world. It’s worth investing in recruitment technologies because finding and attracting the right talent has become increasingly harder.”

Managing freelance and remote workers

With small business owners increasingly turning to freelancers, contractors and other types of remote workers in order to fill positions, SMEs increasingly need their HR platforms to cope with this type of worker and challenges they bring.

“Managing a contingent workforce is a complex task, and many SMEs corporations are left with inefficient practices that waste both time and money. One of the most recent solutions to this problem is a Freelance Management System. A simple yet powerful system that allows companies to easily and efficiently manage their freelance workforce, taking care of everything from onboarding, communications, compliance (Incl. IR35), project assignments, invoicing, payments, and much more,” explains Linnemann

Employee data management

Just over a year and half since GDPR came into force, businesses are ever more aware of the types of data they hold about customers, but as our experts explain keeping a tight track of your employee data is just as important.

“Complying with regulation and data protection requires a system to protect and monitor your data. Running a business on paper or spreadsheets means running the risk of a data breach, and a potentially hefty fine as a result” explains Michelle Hobson from Moorepay

“What’s more, digitizing and centralizing HR processes allows companies to remain GDPR compliant, too. Under the Subject Access Requests, an employee can request access to the information that their employer holds on them. Collating this information, if held in different spreadsheets, documents and software systems are incredibly difficult. Hosting this information in cloud-based software allows companies to face digitization head-on and equips them for the future” according to the team at Breathe.  

Getting the most out of your HR platform

Buying or subscribing to HR platforms doesn’t have to be just a cost, however. Getting the most from your HR software could mean realizing cost efficiencies savings for your business, from smaller upfront costs to better employee productivity.

“Getting the most from your HR software is relatively straight forward. First, business owners should start with ensuring they have clear processes in place for keeping the data in their system up to date – the best HR software integrates with your payroll software to automatically do much of this for you”, thinks Michelle Hobson from Moorepay

Meanwhile Linnemann thinks the benefits lie in building new ways of working with teams “the old paradigm of employers focusing on predictable job roles is giving way to project work, which lends itself to hiring flexible workers on a project basis. Increasingly, jobs may become replaced by projects. This has given rise to the flexible workforce whose members rapidly assemble and reassemble around projects, challenges, and goals rather than jobs.”

Your HR software checklist

With so many small business HR solutions on the market, how can you start to identify the right one for you? We asked our experts to share their top checklist items for small businesses:

Mathias Linnemann from Worksome thinks that SMEs should keep the following factors in mind when choosing a HR solution:

  • Access to highly qualified talent – Talent is the backbone of every organization, and SMEs should prioritize finding a HR solution that delivers on quality of talent
  • Local to you – Many SMEs don’t want to hire remote workers working from other countries. They want people who can come and join them onsite. This is particularly true for the more complex tasks. Focus on finding a solution that provides local talent
  • Tech-based solution – Look for a system that uses technology to find and match you with the best talent. Technological solutions are much faster, more efficient, and can provide better matches for your company’s needs.
  • Ease of use – SMEs should look for a solution that takes care of all the administrative issues, such as creating a contract, billing, and payment, so that everything that has to do with HR is handled in one place
  • Fair and transparent pricing – The cost of recruitment is holding many SMEs back, and while paying at least 15% to a recruiter to find a great teammate sounds fair, it’s often not, especially when better and cheaper alternatives arise. Make sure you choose systems that have transparent pricing.

Meanwhile, Michelle Hobson, HR Services & Technology Director, Moorepay, advises SME owners to keep four key requirements on their HR software checklist:

  • Does it integrate with payroll? This is fundamental, not only will this half the time of potentially having to key information in to two systems, it also drastically reduces the margin for error that comes with duplicate input.
  • Is it secure? GDPR compliance is paramount for all businesses, and HR data is the most sensitive personal data held by most businesses. SME owners know they must have zero exposure to GDPR risk.
  • Are analytics built into the platform? Analytics turn a database into a business brain, powering meaningful decisions to improve productivity, reduce churn, and generate improvements across the board from your people.
  • Can the system scale? Businesses frequently make an investment decision to meet their ‘as-is’ requirements, neglecting to check whether their system can scale as they grow. This can cause a lot of pain down the line, hindering business growth if the HR software isn’t up to scratch.

Our top 5 HR platform picks

Solve HR compliance problems – Your HR Space is an HR platform that solves the HR compliance problem for SMEs. The software presents HR documents in an easy to use online platform, ensuring that all employees have ongoing access to information, some of which is required by law. 

The portal also streamlines HR admin for business owners, handling employee data securely and in compliance with GDPR, managing staff holidays and absences, and communicating policy updates to employees via email. ensures your business has a solid HR foundation and allows SME leaders to focus on growth and moving forward, rather than worrying about HR and employment regulations.  

Key features

  • The content never out of date as it is constantly maintained by a team of HR professionals, offering company owners and managers total peace of mind that all their HR compliance is being met.
  • Employees as they can make holiday requests and allowances quickly online, find out how much holiday time they’ve got remaining, and access policies and contracts easily with everything all in one place.
  • All the HR documentation, communication, and administration is contained within one online platform that is easily accessible from PCs, smartphones and tablets.
  • The software can be branded using your company logo and colour scheme.

Price range

The pricing structure depends on the number of employees, starting at £95 per month (1-25 employees)

  • 26-50 employees at £125 per month
  • 51-100 employees at £150 per month
  • Companies with more than 100+ employees should contact Your HR Space directly

Key strengths:

  • It reduces paperwork and time spent on HR administration.
  • Every business using benefits from bespoke content created by their own dedicated HR consultant, covering all the relevant HR policies, procedures, codes of conduct and general employment information tailored specifically to their business. 
  • All the documents are kept updated and all changes are automatically communicated to employees, ensuring you meet your legal obligations when laws change.

Manage employee absence – Activ Absence

Activ Absence is a cloud-based absence management software that helps businesses manage sickness absence and plan staff holiday all in one place, reducing administration time and costs.

The solution can be used by businesses in any sector with any number of employees ranging from five to over 10,000. It can be configured to work with organisations’ own HR policies and can be used standalone, or as part of Activ’s HR software solution, Activ People HR.  

Key features:

  • Powerful management reporting – Activ Absence offers a host of absence management reports and automated functions giving managers the information they need to tackle trends and patterns of sickness absence.
  • Return to Work – there is a complete return to work process. For every absence the system automatically analyses the employee’s absence over a rolling 12 months, highlighting any absence trends.
  • Trigger Point Alerts – organisations can configure alerts to suit their absence policies and priorities – notifies the manager when an alert is triggered.
  • Annual leave – provides clear visibility of annual leave throughout the year enabling companies to reduce leave clashes, manage international public holidays and maintain essential cover. One-click leave-approval or decline. Reduces interruptions enabling HR to spend time on what really matters
  • Self-service holiday booking for staff – staff can view the department calendar to avoid holiday clashes, access automatic annual leave calculator and submit leave requests online. 

Price Guide:

Activ Absence starts at £1.50 per person per month for a company averaging 50 employees. 

User-friendly HR – Breathe

Breathe provides user-friendly HR software intended to help SMEs spend less time on HR admin so they can focus more on their people. Created in 2012, the company now helps over 7000 companies manage their people. Its successful partner network also supports 500 HR partners. Notable clients include AgeUK, Huel, RocketMill, Big Issue and The Wildlife Trust. 

Key features:

  • Holiday booking
  • Absence reporting
  • Employee data and document management
  • Performance
  • Training
  • Expenses 

Price guide:

Subscription-based and there are varying tiered packages which work on a rolling monthly basis:

  • Micro: 1-10 employees: £10p/m
  • Starter: 11-20 employees, £21 p/m
  • Regular: 21-50 employees, £54 p/m
  • Pro: 51-100 employees, £108 p/m
  • Premium: 101-250 employees, £219 p/m

Key strengths:

  • Cloud-based for easy integration to existing APIs
  • Let’s you manage employee data, payroll, expenses, benefits, recruitment, onboarding, training, absence, workloads, performance holiday management and more
  • Centralised and secure GDPR compliant storage of employee data / secure storage function

Manage a freelance workforce – Worksome

Worksome is a marketplace for highly qualified, carefully vetted, UK-based freelancers and contractors. Worksome focuses on the white-collar segment, so the freelancers and consultants are highly qualified with years of experience.

The platform is designed for SMEs within all sectors looking for instant access to talent on demand, especially focused on talent with digital skills, ranging from developers, designers and product specialists to auditors, engineers, and creatives.

Worksome also provides SMEs with access to a Freelance Management System – a tech-based solution that enables them to easily and efficiently manage their entire freelance workforce. Through the platform they can manage all freelance workers – new and existing – in one place, taking care of all contracts, communications, project assignments, invoicing, payments and much more.

Key strengths

  • An advanced matching algorithm that is designed to find, shortlist and automatically invite qualified freelancers
  • The Worksome platform takes care of hiring, contracts, billing, payment, and more
  • Lowest fee on the market – just 4%
  • We have more than 15,000 vetted freelancers and consultants within IT, project management, finance, sales, marketing, engineering, and more

Integrated payroll and HR – Moorepay

Moorepay provides easy-to-use, integrated payroll & HR software, with rich functionality, supported by flexible services on a cloud-based solution. It helps you manage an employee from recruitment to leaving, and managers and employees can get instant access to essential information via a web-based tool. Automation can help you save time and money on processes such as booking leave and performance management.

Key Features

  • Personnel Management
  • Absence Management
  • Expense & Timesheet Management
  • Performance Management
  • Proactive Safety Management
  • Recruitment and Selection
  • Integrated Report Writer
  • People Analytics
  • Employee Self-Service
  • Customised Workflows


Prices start from £2.00 per employee per month

Key Strengths

  • This is a fully integrated cloud-based payroll and HR Solution, so you’ll never need to input employee data twice, and it reduces time spent on administrative tasks
  • There’s built in business intelligence, providing data-driven dashboards and charts so you can see what’s happening with the people in your business at a glance
  • Simple Employee Self-Service means managers and employees get instant access to essential information anytime, from anywhere, using a secure web-based log in
  • Streamlined Processes means HR admin can be automated, for example booking leave and performance management

Key Sectors

  • Private Sector
  • Retail
  • Financial
  • Professional Services
  • Hospitality
  • Manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Automotive