Employee related problems and cost of living crisis top risk concerns of UK businesses

The annual Gallagher Business Risk Index asked 1,000 leaders at UK businesses to identify the top risks affecting their firm. The current cost of living crisis came first, identified as the biggest concern by over one in five businesses (21% - see table 1).

When asked specifically why the cost-of-living crisis is their top risk factor, the top influencing factors were the current inflation issues (cited by 53% of affected businesses), increases in the cost of energy (38%) and more generally challenging economic conditions (33%). In 2022, the top risk was the cost of materials, which, although still a risk named by many businesses, has fallen away when compared to other factors which have significantly risen up the table.

Many of risks cited by business leaders are primarily focused on people issues reflecting concerns about their workforce, with cost of salaries, lack of skilled talent and employee retention all appearing in the top five.

Cost of salaries appears second in the list and was named by 19% of business leaders, reflecting the tricky balance with running a profitable business but looking after employees fairly when bills and goods are rising in cost. One in three (34%) bosses directly cited inflation as why this was such a worry with a similar number saying it was more generally to do with the overall cost of living (31%).

The lack of skilled talent is a major problem for many UK businesses with one in five (18%) saying it was amongst the top three risks to successful trading. When asked what was influencing their heightened views on lack of skilled talent, 30% of businesses said it was due to changing attitudes amongst the workforce, 17% said they had seen an increase in people moving jobs and 19% highlighted the long-term impact of COVID on the workplace.

Since the pandemic, the balance of power between employers and employees has subtly changed and new concepts like ‘burnout’ and ‘quiet quitting’, have emerged, albeit this may reverse if the economic instability continues.

The related issue of employee retention is also a big problem for UK employers (18% businesses said it was a top three risk) with inflation (26%), increased competition for workers (23%), plus changing attitudes (27%) as significant influencing factors. Employee retention has becoming a rising issue over recent years and employee turnover is at an average of 35%1 for UK businesses, proving a time consuming and costly problem for leaders.

Looking at new risks entering the top ten there has been a marked refocus from 2022, with issues such as debts, fraud and late payments moving up the radars of business leaders. Debts and late payments are a major headache for any business and leaders are right to be concerned as in May company insolvencies in England and Wales jumped 40% year-on-year to the highest level since monthly records began with construction and retail the hardest-hit sectors2.

Fraud, which did not appear in the 2022 top ten risks at all, is also rightly a rising concern as during times of economic stress fraud is known to increase as fraudsters look to exploit anxieties over finances.

Prior to the pandemic, organisations ranked competition within their sector as their top risk, chosen by 16% of business leaders. Yet in the present day, this only ranks fifth, overtaken by more pressing issues caused by the economic environment.

Table 1: Top 10 risks identified by UK businesses in 2022 and 2023

 Rank  2022  2023  % of businesses saying this was one of their top three risks
 1  Cost of materials Cost of living crisis 21
 2  Employee retention Cost of salaries 19
 3  Cash-flow Lack of skilled talent 18
 4  Cost of salaries Cost of materials 18
 5  Competition within sector Employee retention 18
 6  Supply chain failures Cyber-crime 16
 7  Cyber-crime Late payments 13
 8  Lack of skilled talent Supply chain failures 10
 9  Data breaches Debt 9
 10  Cost of transportation Fraud 9

*1,000 business leaders were asked to select the current top risks to their organisation – this is the percentage that selected each risk factor.

Commenting on the findings, Neil Hodgson, Managing Director of Risk Management at Gallagher, said: “UK bosses are facing challenging and changeable risks to successful trading. The cost of living crisis currently shows little slowdown and for many businesses this will have a knock on effect on sales as well as affect their employees personally. “When it comes to concerns like debts, late payments and fraud, businesses can protect themselves against these kinds of financial risks by considering insurance which helps protect their business against the impact of these crystallising. There are many steps, including preventative risk management measures that businesses can take to become more resilient to the tricky economic environment and leaders should speak to their insurance broker to help them understand the options available to them.”