Thames Valley: Businesses deliver strong performance despite Brexit

Thames Valley business performance has remained relatively strong despite a lull in economic confidence, according to the latest Thames Valley Business Barometer report published by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP, and disruptive-tech PR agency C8 Consulting.

The survey, which was conducted between March and May 2019, focused on economic confidence and business performance, as well as employee wellbeing in the workplace. It revealed uncertainty surrounding Brexit has negatively impacted local businesses, with 63% stating that business confidence had dropped since late 2018. However, business performance over the previous six months has remained relatively strong with 36% of respondents saying business pipeline has increased, 43% seeing turnover rise and 51% seeing profitability improve.

  • 63% of respondents felt that economic confidence has dropped
  • Business performance indicators such as order books, pipeline, turnover and profitability have remained relatively strong
  • 90% of employers recognise it is their job to encourage employees to be healthy
  • 71% of employers said that benefits of investing in their employees’ health and wellbeing outweighs the cost to the business

Thames Valley employment has also remained stable: 80% of respondents said their headcount had increased or stayed the same, versus 80% in September 2018.

David Brookes, managing partner of BDO LLP in the Thames Valley, said: “It is hard to ignore Brexit. It dominates the news cycle and national debate and this has evidently affected business confidence in the Thames Valley. The latest Business Barometer has highlighted that many companies have been tightening their belts and that many longer-term projects and investment decisions have been deferred, at least for now.”

He added: “It’s not all doom and gloom, as more than half of the companies surveyed in the report expect profits to rise and headcount to grow in the next six months.”

Health and wellbeing
The latest survey also looked at the important issue of health and wellbeing in the workplace and asked companies in the Thames Valley how important they think this is for their business and their employees and how they are addressing the matter.

According to the report, Thames Valley businesses recognise the importance of employee wellbeing, with 90% of respondents agreeing that, as employers, they have the responsibility to encourage their employees to be healthy.

The most common health and wellbeing initiatives provided by the surveyed companies included cycle to work or bicycle purchase schemes (54%) and healthy food options at work (34%). When asked about stress and mental health at work, surveyed companies said that informal discussions and appraisals (49%) were the most common activities where the subject can be discussed. Only 5% of respondents had engaged in stress awareness days and just 8% offer stress counselling or mentoring programmes at work.

For 48% of respondents, sickness absence is an issue for the effective day to day operation and productivity of their organisation, while 71% said that the financial benefits of spending money on their employees’ health and wellbeing outweigh the cost to the business.

However, the survey found only 56% of respondents feel that they have an effective health and wellbeing programme in place.

Work-related stress is a common issue in the workplace, and something that employers need to consider as a priority. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), more than 1 million work days are lost per year because of stress at work. Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work.

Presenteeism continues to be a pressing issue as reports suggest more than 40% of employees said their work was affected by health problems after putting aside mental and physical health problems to go into work. The accelerating trend can be costly to businesses as productivity is impacted, morale is low and stress is high, and illness can spread to affect the entire workforce.

There are many business benefits to reducing stress and encouraging worker wellbeing, including preventing high staff turnover, improving workplace relations and productivity.

Paula Elliot, founder and managing director of C8 Consulting, commented: “The special focus of employee wellbeing in this report acts as an important conversation starter for businesses, as stress and mental health continues to put strain on companies. We are experiencing a burnout culture where work-related stress is the largest cause of absence. We hope the latest Barometer is eye-opening for businesses and encourages employers to explore their options and consider the ways they can support their employees.”

104 businesses across the Thames Valley took part in the Barometer survey. Local businesses Kymira, A10 Networks, Qdot, Pro-Counselling, The Happiness Index and WebTMS are also profiled in the report, sharing their perspectives on their own performance and wellbeing practices in the workplace.

For more information and to download the Thames Valley Business Barometer spring 2019 report visit the BDO or C8 Consulting website.