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How will wage increases impact SME businesses?

Posted on Apr 04, 2024 by Keeley Edge

With the rollout of the new National Minimum Wage which came into effect on 1st April and with a £1 per hour increase, there’s no doubt that this increase will be felt by businesses and organisations across the board in the UK.

Over the past 15 years, UK wage increases have grown at a much slower rate than many other countries. Could that be why we have been seeing faster rates over the past couple of years? Are we just on catch up?

What does wage growth look like in other countries?

United States: Wage growth in the United States has been relatively stronger than in the UK, especially in recent years. Factors such as a tight labour market, economic expansion, and minimum wage increases in some states have contributed to higher wage growth rates.

Germany: Germany, known for its strong economy and robust labour market, has also seen relatively higher wage growth compared to the UK. Collective bargaining agreements between employers and labour unions often play a significant role in determining wage increases in Germany.

Nordic Countries (e.g., Sweden, Denmark, Norway): Nordic countries have typically experienced higher wage growth rates compared to the UK. These countries often have well-established social welfare systems and strong labour unions, which contribute to higher wage levels and more equitable distribution of income.

Emerging Economies (e.g., China, India): Wage growth in emerging economies like China and India has outpaced that of the UK due to rapid economic development, industrialisation, and urbanisation. However, wage growth rates in these countries can vary widely.

European Union (EU) Countries: Wage growth rates within the EU have varied across member states. Some countries, such as Ireland and Luxembourg, have seen higher wage growth rates compared to the UK, while others, particularly in Southern Europe, have faced challenges with stagnant wages and economic recovery.

Overall, while UK wage growth has shown some improvements in recent years, it has generally lagged behind several other countries, particularly those experiencing robust economic growth or implementing policies aimed at boosting wages and improving living standards.

What impacts are we likely to see from wage and salary increases?

Although all sized businesses and organisations are in the same boat with National Minimum Wage increases, it might be the perfect opportunity to review compensation and benefits across other roles too.

Positives of Wage Increases

Enhanced Employee Satisfaction and Productivity: It's evident that a fair and competitive wage is pivotal in fostering a positive work environment. With the new minimum wage, SMEs have an opportunity to boost employee morale and productivity. Happy employees tend to be more engaged and motivated, translating into higher levels of productivity and efficiency within the workforce.

Improved Talent Attraction and Retention: In my role, I've observed how SMEs often struggle to compete with larger corporations in attracting top talent. By providing a more enticing compensation package, SMEs can effectively attract skilled individuals and reduce turnover rates. This not only saves on recruitment costs but also contributes to a more stable and experienced workforce.

Driving Economic Activity: Let's think about the ripple effect. When workers have more money in their pockets, what do they do? They spend it! This uptick in consumer spending can particularly benefit SMEs, driving sales and revenue growth in sectors such as retail, hospitality, and services.

What about the Flip Side of Enforced Wage Increases?

Increased Operational Costs: One of the primary concerns voiced by SMEs in response to the new minimum wage is the potential strain on operational costs. Many businesses have been operating on tight budgets, and any increase in wage expenses can significantly impact their bottom line. SMEs may need to reassess their budget allocations and explore cost-saving measures to mitigate these financial pressures.

Possible Workforce Reductions or Hour Cuts: While SMEs strive to support their employees, the reality is that some may face difficult decisions regarding workforce size and hours worked. With higher wage requirements, businesses may be forced to streamline operations, potentially leading to job losses or reduced working hours for existing employees. This can create challenges for both employers and workers alike, impacting livelihoods and overall morale.

Compliance and Administrative Burdens: Ensuring adherence to the new minimum wage requirements may require additional time and effort, diverting attention from core business activities. SMEs without a dedicated HR team may need support in navigating these complexities to avoid any legal ramifications.

In Review:

As you navigate through these changes, it's essential to remember that you’re not alone in this journey. Seeking external advice from accountants, business coaches, mentors, and HR Consultants can be invaluable in ensuring that any decisions made are both strategic and compliant with the new legislation.

As an SME business and as a recruiter to many SME’s, what I do know is that SME businesses are resilient and adaptable. With this combination of resilience, creativity, and leveraging external expertise, SMEs can tackle the challenges posed by the new minimum wage and emerge even stronger on the other side. Here's to embracing change, learning from each other, and continuing to thrive.

I have a vast network of professionals that I can tap into for support and guidance. If you are looking for external support or advice, let me introduce you.


Hi I’m Keeley, MD of Key Appointments. 

We offer Fixed Fee, Contingent, Retained and Recruitment Outsourcing services - providing support wherever it’s needed, allowing you to manage your budget effectively.

Talk to me if you’re an SME or Non-Profit with limited time and budget for your recruitment.

Get in touch if you’re a Manufacturing or Engineering business looking for talented Engineers, Supply Chain or Commercial employees.

The Key Appointments team can help you: Attract, Search, Screen, Assess and Onboard potential future employees.

Call me on 07943 116559 or email me 

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