Living Wage & Downsizing: Fears That Keep Employees Awake At Night

In some sectors – retail, hospitality, admin and support (customer service roles) – employees often live with a fear they aren’t as valuable as more skilled workers. Changes, such as the National Living Wage – now at £7.50 for those over 25 – can cause stress and uncertainty.

As much as a pay rise is welcomed, there is always a justifiable fear that companies will need to reduce staff levels to pay more to those they can afford.

The John Lewis Partnership (JLP), owners of the upmarket supermarket chain, Waitrose, and department store, John Lewis, was one of the first companies to report a 17.4% pre-tax drop in profits as a result of a higher wage bill. The Telegraph reported that this wage bill could lead to them “employ[ing] fewer staff over time.”

The Real Risks of Downsizing

National Living Wage requirements mean that it cost JLP an extra £3 million in wages. It could cost more in the next tax year (2017-18), with the government aiming for National Living Wage to hit £9 for those over 25 in 2020.

Other retailers, pub and restaurant chains, coffee shops and hospitality groups also face rising wage costs, which are forcing some to reconsider how many staff they employ. “The British Retail Consortium has estimated that the additional cost to retailers will be between 1-3 billion pounds annually by 2020”, according to a Reuters report on this issue.

Analysts expect certain retailers, including Next, Sports Direct and Poundland – all subject to higher margin pressures than competitors – “could be hit particularly hard.” Store closures are expected, especially with 60% of retail leases coming up for renewal in the next five years. More customers are buying online, which could encourage retailers to downsize store footprints across the country.

Argos (now owned by Sainsbury’s), Debenhams and Tesco are also contemplating downsizing, partly in response to higher wage bills and other costs, which inevitably will result in some staff – potentially thousands – losing their jobs over the next few years.

The hospitality sector is set to experience the largest National Living-induced wage bill increase, of 3.4%. Companies with low prices and low margins will suffer the most, which includes JD Wetherspoon, Costa (and other Whitbread PLC brands), and other pub groups, including Mitchells & Butler, Adnams and Punch Taverns. Wetherspoon’s is expected to reduce earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) 38%, as a consequence of wages rising 10% across the chain.

Good news for employees that receive higher paychecks. Bad news for those companies can no longer afford to employ.

What Can Businesses Do?

Assuming you are affected in some way – that you also need to pay staff more since National Living Wage was implemented – you will probably already know how much more higher wages are going to cost your business. Hopefully, you can absorb these extra costs over the next few years without reducing headcount.

Sustainable growth is the only long-term way to ensure you can employ everyone and pay competitive wages that ensure you can recruit the best talent for your business. Periodically review business operations, to make sure everyone is working in a role that generates maximum value.

When employees are worried about losing their jobs, they look elsewhere, and top performers can jump ship more easily. They have skills your competitors want and need. Consequently, companies are left with mid-level and poor performers, thereby dragging down performance and productivity, or forcing managers to let them go and start hiring again for people capable of hitting KPIs. No one comes out a winner in this scenario. Hiring new staff costs more money than reassuring those who were performing well, but decided to leave as a result of a fear of downsizing.

Providing reassurance in the form of a positive action, such as employee benefit loans and savings accounts, is far cheaper – free for businesses, in the case of FairQuid – than watching your best staff leave and trying to replace them.

With heightened fears of redundancies across sectors where people aren’t paid high salaries, carrying debts around and not having any savings only makes these stresses worse. As an employer, you can do something about these issues (whilst also ensuring your staff are more productive and engaged) – thanks to employee benefit loans. Best of all, these won’t cost your business a penny. Find out more today.


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