Underperforming employees' cost is high for UK SMEs

British SMEs are bearing the brunt of the skills crisis, with underperforming employees costing each firm £39,500 a year on average.

Consisting of salary costs and lost growth, SMEs are losing substantial amounts of profit due to poor hires. This is a crisis for the UK economy: with small businesses making up 99.3 per cent of the country’s firms, their problem is the nation’s problem. This is the key finding of new research into the skills challenges faced by UK SMEs during a time of record employment conducted by, growth consultancy, The Sunflower Group.

Hiring a new team member is a significant investment for any small firm. However, businesses are quickly finding the employees they invest money and aspirations in, need much more help than originally anticipated. Nine in ten (89 per cent) small and medium size businesses owners report new staff need more supervision and training than initially planned for. This means owners spend valuable time supervising employees, instead of focusing on growing the business, often what a new hire was supposed to enable them to do.

The cost of underperforming staff is exacerbated by SMEs’ struggle to hire employees with the right skills in the first place. Four in five (79 per cent) owners report it being difficult to attract workers with the skills they need. Worse: almost a third (31 per cent) say it is very hard to do so.  A critical reason for this is lack of funding: a fifth of all SME owners’ report they cannot afford to pay market salaries. The issue is exacerbated by would-be employees seeking jobs at more well-known firms. Four in ten (39per cent) SMEs cite their lack of brand power a reason for not being able to recruit.

Indicating the wider technical skills gap in the UK, production and operations is the business function most desperately lacking staff. Over a quarter (28 per cent) report it to be the one they struggle to hire for most. Sales (14 per cent), finance (13 per cent) and marketing (13 per cent) make up other functions.

Amanda Webb, Managing Director at The Sunflower Group said,

To combat the skills gap, and get the resources to grow, small firms need to be savvy about hiring. Rapidly growing businesses should hire as soon as they find a good candidate. Don’t wait for a vacancy to become available: good people will always add value.

The Sunflower Group Technical Director, David Callé, said,

There’s a large expectation vs reality gap when SMEs hire new staff. The aspiration of finding someone to help grow your business, with the same ambitions and capabilities is often impossible to fulfil. Owners need to specific and realistic in their hiring processes. Setting specific objectives for a new hire is a critical first step. If available candidates will not be able to do these, take a wider look at how they could be fulfilled. For example, would improving processes and systems have the same boost to productivity? Or would external consultancy be more valuable?






Aphrodite is a creative writer and editor specialising in publishing and communications. She is passionate about undertaking projects in diverse sectors. She has written and edited copy for media as varied as social enterprise, art, fashion and education. She is at her most happy owning a project from its very conception, focusing on the client and project research in the first instance, and working closely with CEOs and Directors throughout the consultation process. Much of her work has focused on rebranding; messaging and tone of voice is one of her expertise, as is a distinctively unique writing style in my most of her creative projects. Her work is always driven by the versatility of language to galvanise image and to change perception, as it is by inspiring and being inspired by the wondrous diversity of people with whom paths she crosses cross!

Aphrodite has had a variety of high profile industry clients as a freelancer, and previously worked for a number of years as an Editor and Journalist for Prospects.ac.uk.

Aphrodite is also a professional painter.