Over a million UK SME leaders worry productivity has dropped in the last 18 months

  • 27% of SME leaders were worried about their employees’ productivity at the start of the pandemic, but not worried now as employees are being very focused
  • A fifth (17%) were worried about their employees’ mental health at the start of the lockdowns


A fifth (19%) of SME leaders - the equivalent to over one million - are worried that their employees' productivity has fallen over the past 18 months, research from Canada Life1 today reveals. As many businesses are returning to the workplace and adapting to hybrid working, the findings have raised concerns over productivity and presenteeism, which is thought to have been exacerbated by the pandemic. 


When thinking back to the start of the lockdowns, 27% of SME leaders were worried about employees’ productivity, but since then are not worried as employees have shown they are very focused despite the situation.


Employers’ primary concerns around moving employees to work from home were: 

  • Distractions at home - 19%
  • Internet connectivity - 19%
  • Fall in productivity - 19%
  • Technology challenges, such as IT issues - 18%
  • Fall in motivation - 18%


At the start of the first lockdown, a fifth (17%) of SME leaders were worried about their employees’ mental health, and a similar amount (14%) said this worry actually materialised over the course of the pandemic. The pandemic also saw an increase in issues around presenteeism, with nearly a fifth (19%) of SME leaders feeling that presenteeism amongst their employees increased, as more people were working while unwell rather than taking time off.


As working from home was a requirement for a significant number of businesses in the UK, over half (55%) of SME employers had to introduce new measures; the most significant changes being to IT equipment (24%) and introducing flexi-working (24%).


Unfortunately, the number of SME leaders supporting co-workers struggling with issues of presenteeism has dropped to 37%, from 41% in 2020. The most common measure introduced being the active encouragement of employees not to work if they are feeling unwell. Recognising the impact of presenteeism and the concerns of mental health in the workplace, two-fifths (40%) of senior decision makers at SMEs have felt the need to be more present for their colleagues over the past 18 months. For those senior decision makers in SMEs of over 10 employees, this figure jumps to 62%.


Dan Crook, Protection Sales Director, Canada Life, comments:

“While employers clearly had concerns about the productivity of their staff over the course of the pandemic, it's encouraging to see that they are more concerned about the wellbeing of their workforce and have introduced measures to support them during these uncertain times.


“However, it's clear that there is still more work to be done, as both employers and employees feel the effect of presenteeism in the workplace. This is an example of where having the right support services as part of a group protection policy can play a vital role in supporting employees, and employers who adopt them can demonstrate their commitment to their employees by putting their wellbeing first.”


  1. Source: Research carried out by Opinium among 501 SME decision makers between 10-15 September 2021

*The grossed up value in the headline was derived by multiplying the percentage of SMEs that are worried about productivity by the number of SMEs in the UK: 6million SMEs in the UK * 19% that are worried = 1.14million.


According to the UK Parliament website, there were about 6 million SMEs in the UK in 2020.