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UK businesses have faced a challenging period marked by inflation impacting costs across various sectors, including industry-specific expenses and broader considerations like energy prices affecting a majority of businesses. Suppliers are responding by putting their prices up, and consumers are left with less to spend – and all of this is forcing many businesses to make tough decisions regarding staffing and hiring.

Coople has conducted a survey of 1000 UK business owners and senior decision makers, asking them to share how these economic conditions have – or have not – impacted their hiring decisions. The data was collected by the market research company OnePoll on Coople’s behalf from 7 to 9 June 2024.


The impact of economic uncertainty

Our research into the current economic uncertainties reveals significant impacts on businesses. A quarter of respondents have implemented redundancies in response to prevailing economic conditions, while an additional 19% have paused hiring activities. In contrast, 56% of business leaders indicated they have maintained their current staff levels without adjustments.

Notably, companies led by younger executives showed higher incidence of workforce reductions – over a third between 25 and 44 saying they had implemented these. In comparison, 9% of leaders aged 45-54 reported making redundancies, with figures decreasing to less than 4% among those aged 55 and above.

Rufus Hood, Country Manager UK at Coople, comments: “These findings suggest that younger-led companies may experience greater volatility and a higher likelihood of staff reductions. It may also be linked to the fact that younger leaders often oversee startups and newer businesses, which inherently face higher risks and must pivot rapidly to changing conditions.”

Businesses based in London were also more likely to have made redundancies, at 45%, reflecting the capital’s volatile and fast-paced market. In the East Midlands, East of England, the South East and Yorkshire and the Humber, fewer than 10% of businesses had made staff redundant due to the economic situation.


How to discuss the economic situation with your employees

Businesses generally maintained transparency with their staff regarding the potential impacts of economic instability on both jobs and the company as a whole. 18% did not engage in communication on this topic.

The preferred methods of communication varied: 41% opted for team meetings, while 33% utilised email updates and company-wide meetings respectively. Additionally, 30% of business leaders chose one-on-one discussions with their employees.

Evaluation of the question how businesses discuss the economic situation with their employees

There were interesting generational differences when it came to the way business leaders answered these questions. Respondents under the age of 45 were more likely to communicate directly with their staff about how economic conditions may affect the company. Only 9% and 10% of those in the 25-34 and 35-44 age brackets did not discuss the issue with their staff. In contrast, 26% of business leaders aged 45-54, 33% of those aged 55-64, and 51% of those who were 65 or over said they never discussed it.

Looking at Millennials and Gen X, we find that Millennials favour email exchanges and company-wide meetings the most, with both methods chosen by 51%. Meanwhile, among Gen X, regular team meetings emerged as the predominant choice, selected by 47%. Interestingly, both age groups showed a similar preference for one-to-one meetings with employees, 35% and 37% respectively opting for this approach.


Attitudes towards alternative staffing solutions

In our survey, we asked whether respondents had utilised alternative staffing models to navigate the changing economic environment. 35% of business leaders had, working with staffing agencies, freelancers, and contractors to fulfil their needs.

Among those who embraced these alternative solutions, an overwhelming majority, 85%, reported them as effective. The results demonstrate just how much stepping outside traditional hiring practices can help in adapting to changing business landscapes.

Rufus Hood comments: “This survey has established that one of the most important success factors of flexible staffing is the quality of the staff themselves. At Coople, our pool of skilled professionals are rated by every previous company they have worked with through our platform. With full transparency, it’s easy to find workers who come highly recommended or have relevant previous experience. It’s likely that the business leaders who were happiest with their experience of flexible staffing were those who were supported by the best flexible or temporary staff, contractors and freelancers.”

Business leaders across all age brackets expressed comparable satisfaction levels with their use of alternative staffing models. This suggests that their experiences were consistent regardless of age. However, younger business leaders and those located in Northern Ireland and London were more inclined to adopt alternative staffing solutions initially, potentially reflecting the higher volatility of their respective markets. Specifically, 45% of leaders aged 25-34 and 47% of those aged 35-44 had utilised alternative staffing. The regions least likely to have tried using freelancers and temporary workers were the East Midlands at 14% and the West Midlands at 15%.


Prioritising when making staffing decisions

In our survey we asked business leaders to identify the primary factor influencing their decisions on hiring, retaining, or releasing employees amid economic uncertainty. Employee performance and productivity emerged as the top priority, chosen by 33% of respondents. Following closely were future growth projections at 25%, with cost-saving measures at 22%, and industry trends at 15%.

Evaluation of the question about what factors business leader consider when making staffing decisions

The region most likely to consider industry trends was London, with a higher-than-average percentage of business leaders based in the capital selecting this option in the survey, at 23%.

We also inquired about our respondents’ priorities during economic instability: whether they prioritise developing their workforce or implementing cost-cutting measures. 33% indicated an equal priority for both options. Cost-saving measures slightly edged out workforce development, with 30% favouring the former compared to 14% who prioritised the latter.

Rufus Hood adds: “It’s interesting to see these two statistics side by side, as they are not as contradictory as they might seem. While cost-saving is more of an overall priority, when it comes to decisions specifically around hiring and staffing, business leaders tend to prioritise employee performance over cutting costs.”


Conclusion

In times of economic uncertainty, while hiring new full-time staff might not be an available option, businesses should consider alternative staffing solutions. The addition of temporary support can help your team get through a busy period, without having to commit to adding extra staff to the payroll long-term. It’s evident that alternative staffing is a solution that has a high satisfaction rate among the business leaders who try these methods.

Coople’s algorithm matches your job requirements with highly skilled and star rated workers. We provide transparency on their performance at previous companies, and we handle all the admin related to hiring these staff – including payroll, salary conversations, insurance, holiday and parental leave. Once you have your group of favourite Cooplers, you can favourite them in the app so that you can keep rehiring them and build those critical trusted working relationships and have a flexible team that you can rely on whenever you need them.


Note on our methodology

OnePoll, an accredited and trustworthy survey company, conducted this survey on behalf of Coople. 1000 business owners and senior decision makers aged 18 and over, across the UK answered the survey between 7 and 9 June 2024. Anyone without a significant level of responsibility at their place of employment was filtered out, ensuring that only senior leaders provided answers to the survey questions.