Global research indicates shift in SME priorities and concerns for 2024
Australia, 03 January 2024: New research released today has revealed that 84.2% of SMEs list rising costs as their top business concern.
The research was conducted by Peninsula Group, leading HR and workplace relations advisory services, and surveyed SMEs across 5 countries – Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the UK – to understand the top priorities and concerns for employers in 2024.
The global survey revealed:
Growth is the main business goal for 44.7% of SMEs; a significant drop from 58.7% this time last year, reflecting the tough economic environment faced by businesses around the world. Australia and New Zealand appear hardest hit, with 22.4% and 26.6% respectively listing survival as their main goal for the year.
It’s more positive news for the UK and Ireland, however, with just 18.8% in both countries listing survival as their top goal, compared to 38.4% and 34.7% respectively a year ago.
Rising costs are the top concern for 84.2% of all businesses, while staffing continues to be a big issue. Labour shortages came in second highest at 45.6% with retention in third place at 41.5%.
The cost-of-living crisis and staffing shortages are having a significant impact, with 56.3% of employers offering financial remuneration to help retention. Canada ranked highest here, at 64.9%.
Those who are unable to give financial incentives are turning to reward and recognition to aid retention; this saw a huge 131% increase YoY. While mental health support was highly valued in all countries last year, this year it’s only in the UK where mental health is the second highest retention aid, with 48.7% of employers continuing to offer it - an increase of 8% from last year.
Employers are also getting creative as they look to offset the ongoing skills shortage with 46.5% investing in upskilling and training their existing staff. Apprenticeships are also on the rise, with a 36% increase globally. Canadian employers especially are turning to apprentices with a massive 217% increase YoY. 25.7% of employers list recruitment as their challenge staffing wise, with pay increase requests coming in second at 22%.
In terms of working patterns, despite all the headlines surrounding a 4-day work week it’s clear that this is not a reality for many businesses. Only 2.2% of SMEs globally have moved to a 4-day working week, with a further 0.6% having trialled it and found it did not work for them. Instead, 50% of all employers say that their employees are all in the workplace full-time, 14.7% have flexible working hours, and 10.1% have made hybrid working a permanent policy.
David Price, CEO at Employsure, says “Despite the tough economic climate, there is an air of optimism amongst small business owners as we move into 2024. Compared to this time last year, we’ve seen that while the labour shortage was a top concern, it’s been overtaken this year by rising costs – unsurprising after an economically-unstable year in Australia.
“This financial concern however, is coupled with an optimistic outlook for the year ahead with the top business goal being growth, signalling a laser-focused vision for employers. We’re expecting a fast-paced year ahead for Aussie small businesses, with ambition and entrepreneurialism at an all-time high.
“What’s also been interesting to see is that the majority of businesses have returned to the office full time. This suggests that there’s been a behaviour shift of employers and employees needing more collaboration and team engagement, therefore returning to a permanent office-first model.
“Globally, it’s indicated that this will be a tough year for many businesses, but there is also a mood of opportunity. Employers are seeing the value in retaining employees and, in turn, employees are reaping the benefits. More than half were given a pay raise and employers are looking at creative ways to retain employees, such as upskilling and training opportunities, or flexible working where a pay raise is not possible.
“As January starts – traditionally the time of year when most people look for new jobs – it’s no surprise that business owners are looking at ways to upskill and retain their own employees, rather than having to spend time and money recruiting.”
Notes to editor
Methodology: This survey was conducted online on a global sample, with an Australian sample of n= 254 businesses. Respondents are small business clients of Employsure, representative of a wide industry base.
Employsure is Australia’s leading workplace advisory firm for SMEs, advising more than 31,000 clients in Australia and New Zealand on workplace relations and workplace health & safety issues. Its advice line allows businesses to speak with its team of workplace relations specialists, and through onsite visits to their business.
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Rhiannon Hughes - Content & Public Relations Manager
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