When we started making plans last year to launch WorkLife in the summer of 2020, little did we know how different the business environment we were entering would be. This report, our first ever Small Business Monitor, provides a snapshot of a period during the worst financial crisis since the banking crash of 2007, although as time drags on and normal service still seems far away, the effect of COVID-19 and its financial legacy could be even greater.
With the small business sector employing 16.5 million workers across the UK, we wanted to find out how this crisis has hit the UK’s almost six million small businesses. To find out we surveyed the owners, financial and HR decision makers of a sample of those SMEs. We interviewed 750 senior financial and HR decision makers in UK small businesses (SMEs) of between 5 and 250 employees to understand how they had been affected by coronavirus and lockdown. We asked them about the impact on their finances, their working practices, the future and how the situation had affected their employees.
While the basics of business, such as continued sales and income, were the areas most obviously likely to be impacted by the pandemic, our research found that the main concern for small businesses was keeping their employees safe from the risk of Covid-19 in the workplace, as mentioned by 36% of those surveyed. This rose to 49% of SMEs in the public sector.
Nearly a third (29%) worried about the impact of the pandemic on their employees’ mental wellbeing. This rose to 41% of SMEs in the public sector. We found that 29% of smaller firms worried about falling sales and 24% worried about just staying in business. Being able to pay their employees and paying their bills was a worry for 23% of firms
As our research shows, most businesses were aware of the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on the mental wellbeing of their workers. This will have been worsened by employee concerns of job insecurity, cited as an employee worry by 42% of SMEs.
In the public sector, where fewer people were furloughed, employees were more likely to worry about caring for their family (51%), contracting Covid-19 (49%) and their mental wellbeing (46%), according to employers. The impact on workers’ personal finances was also a huge concern, as income was disrupted.
According to the employers we spoke to, 38% said their workers were worried about their personal finances, while 32% were concerned about their salary reducing.
Despite the immense challenges SMEs are facing, it has been encouraging to see how small businesses have adapted and embodied the entrepreneurial spirit our country is famous for. However with many looking set to face continued income issues, it is important to remember that, when the situation starts to improve, workers will be vital to their recovery.
The WorkLife benefit portal can offer your employees additional support and guidance during these difficult times. Whether you're concerned about the mental, physical or financial wellbeing of your team, our benefits are designed with SMEs in mind.
Click the download link to download our full Small Business Monitor report to see more on how SMEs are responding to the challenges the pandemic has brought to the UK.