Kiwi businesses ditch hybrid or remote working for return to office

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Global research indicates a shift in SME priorities for 2024

New research released in January 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 five 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 biggest 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. What’s been interesting to see is that recruitment continues to be a struggle when it comes to staffing and how that may shift this time next year after a year of increased migrant worker quotas under a new government.

“What was unexpected is that opting for flexible working hours, rather that remote or hybrid working models, has been the top choice to aid employee retention.

“Combined with the finding that more than half of businesses have returned to the office full time this suggests that there’s been a shift in priorities of employers and employees needing more collaboration and team engagement, therefore returning to a permanent office-first model but with a little more flexibility.

“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.”

Related: Smaller office spaces in demand

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