Sharp rise in CFO optimism 

A Deloitte survey of UK Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) has revealed a sharp rebound in business sentiment, partly reflecting easing concerns regarding energy prices and problems relating to Brexit. 

Data from the quarterly survey, which was conducted in late March and early April, showed confidence among CFOs rising at its fastest rate since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout at the end of 2020. In total, 25% more CFOs reported feeling better about the future than worse; in comparison, the previous quarter’s figures showed 17% more feeling worse than better.  

Despite this rebound, the research found that risk appetite remains below normal levels, with a significant proportion of CFOs focused on cutting costs and building cash reserves. One area expected to see higher investment though is artificial intelligence (AI), with an overwhelming majority of CFOs predicting strong growth in AI spending over the next five years.  

Commenting on the findings, Deloitte’s Chief Economist Ian Stewart said, “The economic unpredictability that marked the beginning of 2023 has started to clear, with CFOs reporting the largest decline in perceptions of uncertainty to date. Business confidence has rebounded, helped by a decrease in energy prices, an easing of Brexit concerns and an improving inflation backdrop.” 

High costs deterring overseas expansion 

Research commissioned by currency solutions platform HedgeFlows has found that a majority of UK small firms are giving up on plans to expand internationally due to high trading costs. 

Findings from the recent survey which asked business owners about their ambitions for the year ahead, suggests that seven out of ten SMEs have abandoned plans to expand beyond the UK because trading costs are too high. A lack of the technological infrastructure required to trade overseas or not having the capabilities to manage foreign payments were commonly cited as barriers to international trade for small businesses. 

SME owners also expressed concerns around a lack of skills for expansion, with a significant proportion saying they lacked the financial expertise to open an office abroad. Commenting on the study, HedgeFlows Co-Founder Neh Thaker said, “It’s absurd that so many of our most ambitious and fast-growing businesses feel unable to expand internationally due to a lack of support and access to the tools they need to grow. 

Mr Thaker added, “The time has come to equip SMEs with a level playing field to expand internationally. These privileges are already enjoyed by larger enterprises and should be available to businesses of all sizes.”  

Shrinking workforce restricting growth 

A report recently released by the cross-party Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has warned that a lack of workers is holding back economic growth in the UK. 

The Committee found that current labour shortages are being exacerbated by a pandemic-induced ‘exodus’ of over-50s from the workforce. A poll commissioned specifically for the inquiry though found that while many have taken early retirement, others would go back to work if suitably flexible roles with adequate protections allowed them to continue with semi-retirement or caring responsibilities.  

However, the Committee argues that a lack of protections around flexible working compared to full or part-time roles acts as a barrier to those wanting to return to work. It therefore suggests that rethinking the legal framework and protections around new types of more flexible working through an Employment Bill would open up job opportunities to many non-working over-50s who would like to be economically active. 

The report concludes that Ministerial ownership of labour policy is currently fragmented across many departments. To rectify this situation, the Committee is calling on the government to either set up a new Ministry for Labour or establish a Cabinet Committee in order to coordinate labour market policy across Whitehall. 

Ecommerce: small firms lead the way  

The latest Digital Economy Survey published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) highlights a sharp rise in levels of ecommerce with analysis suggesting small firms are punching ‘far above their weight.’ 

Data from the ONS survey shows that the overall value of online sales made by non-financial UK firms reached £459bn in 2021; this represents a 29% increase compared to 2019 and was more than double the level of website sales made during 2014. The figures also revealed that 35% of retailers sold online in 2021, while 18% of wholesalers, 16% of manufacturers and 8% of information and communication businesses made online sales. 

The ONS data does show that website sales were dominated by large businesses, with those employing 1,000 or more people accounting for nearly 60% of total online sales. However, analysis by home delivery firm ParcelHero suggests that the country’s smallest firms have also benefited significantly from the ecommerce boom.  

Indeed, their analysis shows that micro-businesses employing fewer than ten people sold an impressive £53bn of products and services online during 2021. ParcelHero Head of Consumer research David Jinks called this “an astonishing achievement” and added, “proportionately, our smallest businesses punched far above their weight in 2021.”  

Workplace loyalty alive and kicking 

Research by recruitment specialists Michael Page suggests many young workers would be happy to stay with their current employer, debunking the idea that workplace loyalty has become a thing of the past.  

The survey of 5,000 working adults aimed to split employees into two distinct categories: ‘hoppers’ who move between companies frequently and ‘lifers’ who stay with a company for a longer period of time. The research found that almost two-thirds of UK workers identify themselves as ‘lifers.’ 

Interestingly, while younger workers were more likely to fall into the ‘hopper’ category than their older counterparts, almost six out of ten Gen-Z and Millennials identified with the lifer mentality, lauding its opportunities to develop skills and provide greater career stability. 

Commenting on the findings, Michael Page’s UK & Ireland Managing Director Doug Rode said, “What’s really interesting about these findings is that we’re able to bust the myth that younger workers wouldn’t consider a long-term future with a company in the early stages of their career. Yes, they are more likely to identify as hoppers than older workers, but it’s clear from the data that if they find the right employer, they could be willing to stay for a long time.” 

Other News 

Hybrid working cuts carbon emissions 

New research conducted in three UK cities by IWG and Arup has highlighted the positive environmental impact of hybrid working. The study found that switching from a five-day commuting model to a hybrid working pattern could significantly reduce carbon emissions. The largest impact was found to be in Glasgow, where emissions could be cut by 80%, while Manchester could benefit from a 70% decrease and London a 49% reduction. 

Sickness absence at record high 

Figures recently released by ONS show that the total number of working days lost to sickness in the UK rose to a record high of 185.6 million last year. Minor illnesses, which include colds, coughs, nausea and diarrhoea, were the most common reason for sickness absence. The overall percentage of working hours lost to illness rose to 2.6%; this represents a 0.4 percentage-point increase from 2021. 

Business sales figures down 

Analysis of HMRC’s Business Asset Disposal Relief figures by Bowmore Asset Management suggests UK business owners made £11.8bn selling their firms during the past year. While this clearly represents a significant amount of money, the figure was lower than sums generated in previous years with the economic slowdown during the pandemic believed to have made entrepreneurs more reluctant to sell at reduced valuations. 

Quirky Quote 

“Hard work spotlights the character of people. Some turn up their sleeves. Some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all” – Sam Ewing (baseball player) 

The top workplace ‘icks’ revealed 

A survey of office workers conducted by has revealed a list of the top ‘icks’ that are guaranteed to annoy most employees. According to the poll, food-related bad habits are typically the ones most likely to irritate co-workers.  

The research found that the top ten ‘icks’ were:  

  1. Stealing milk/food from the fridge 
  1. Someone starting a conversation in the toilets 
  1. Loud personal phone calls 
  1. Cooking smelly food in the microwave 
  1. Eating loudly 
  1. Leaving message notifications on loud 
  1. Oversharing about their children 
  1. Cringey email phrases  
  1. Typing loudly 
  1. Oversharing about their love life. 

The survey also highlighted some notable generational variations when it comes to toleration of other people’s bad habits. Gen X respondents, for instance, rated ‘oversharing about their love life’ as their number one ‘ick’, while Millennials placed ‘someone starting a conversation in the toilets’ at first place and Gen Z had ‘cooking smelly food in the microwave’ at the top of their list. Interestingly, the only ‘ick’ that featured within the top three across all age groups was ‘loud personal phone calls.’ 

Commenting on the survey’s findings, spokesperson Helena Young said, “Everyone discussing office ‘icks’ seems to directly coincide with a more consistent return to the office. We’ve got used to having our own space and not having to tolerate others’ personal habits and it appears going back to co-working has brought out our grumpy sides!”  

The importance of shared values 

Research conducted by LinkedIn has found that a majority of people in the UK feel it is important to work for a company whose core values are firmly aligned to their own. 

In total, the survey found that two-thirds of all workers consider it important to work for a business with values that match theirs, while almost three in five actually said they would not work for a firm that does not share the same values as they do. This view was particularly prevalent amongst Gen Z and Millennials, with nine out of ten from those groups saying they would leave a job to work somewhere that better matches their values. 

LinkedIn’s UK country manager Ngaire Moyes commented, “Our research shows that many UK professionals – particularly the younger generation – want to work for companies who share the same core values, and they are willing to walk if reality does not meet their expectations. The pandemic prompted a real shift in what people want from their career, and while salary is still the biggest factor, our research and data show that values can increasingly be as much of a deal-breaker.”  

All details are correct at the time of writing (10 May 2023) 

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