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The poll sampled 500 recruitment agencies, 500 SME employers and 2,000 office workers, all based in the UK.

Main findings

The study revealed that due to rising operating costs, 34% of SMEs are struggling with personnel costs, which translates into a lack of talent recruitment. 26% of businesses also suffer from low cash flow, making it difficult for businesses to progress and keep up with current changes affecting working patterns.

In terms of key developments in working methods, employers were asked which trends are most relevant to the UK market. They elected:

  • Four-day weeks – 39.12%
  • Five-day weeks – 14.57%
  • Working entirely remotely – 16.77%
  • Working entirely in the office – 15.37%
  • Hybrid – 37.92%
  • Flexible working hours – 43.71%

Interestingly, however, employees said that 71% of them wanted a four day work weekstanding out from hybrid working (31%) and teleworking (28%).

Perhaps employee demands exceed what employees currently offer, which in turn may cause SMEs to reconsider the benefits and work patterns available to staff in order to retain and attract talent.

One thing that employees, employers, and recruiters might agree on is that the 4-day work week is likely to become the norm by 2030. So it might be a matter of IF rather than WHEN the perspective of new ways of working is correctly envisaged.

Implementing, for example, a four-day week would require a multitude of operational and financial considerations. After all, what impact will it have on communications, customer management, supply chain and cash flow?

Surprisingly, however, 40% of small business employers believe their company is willing to offer a four-day week. This tops the 29% of employers who feel financially and operationally unable to offer a four-day week, while a further 31% of the market remain uncertain and could be more compelling.

Funding operational change can be difficult, and SMEs highlighted workload coverage, production curtailment, and compression as challenges that could worsen their financial situation. These factors must also be weighed against current challenges, with 30% of SMEs identifying late customer payments as a pressure point.

Perhaps the external finance market could hold the keys to bolstering SME finances and enabling an operational overhaul that could see new ways of working introduced and new talent joining UK businesses.

About the Author: Natalie Kerr is the Chief Commercial Officer of Fast Cash NatWest.