According to a new survey, 84.2% of SMBs list rising costs as their top business concern.

Peninsula Group conducted a survey of 79,000 SMBs across 5 countries – Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK – to see what the top priorities and concerns were for employers in 2024.

Growth is the main business goal for 44.7% of SMBs; 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 year-over-year. 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 year-over-year. 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 SMBs 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.

Raj Singh, CEO at Peninsula Canada 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 there has been a notable surge in employers dedicating greater resources to the development and growth of their staff. Globally, apprenticeships have seen a remarkable 36% increase, while upskilling and training have witnessed a 28% increase. And more than half of employees were given a pay raise or offered flexible working."

"In 2022, we found that the top two concerns for employers were labour shortages and employee retention. Faced with these obstacles, SMBs acknowledged that fostering employee retention was key. And one of the best ways to overcome these challenges, was to invest in their employees and that is what we saw happen last year."

"By prioritizing the professional growth of their employees, businesses not only mitigate the effects of labour shortages but also cultivate a skilled and motivated workforce, fill in gaps in the workplace, and set the foundation for continued success in the ever-evolving business landscape."

"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."

SOURCE: Peninsula Canada

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