By Louise McCosh

JUST when there seemed to be some light at the end of the tunnel for SMEs who have battled through the difficulties of the last few months, the reintroduction of some restrictions by the Scottish Government, as it aims to curb the spike in coronavirus cases, will have left many feeling like they are back to square one.

Once more, they face the challenges and tough decisions that come with owning or running a business that has had its revenue decimated.

Although it is undoubtedly a rocky path right now, this will not always be the case. There are several alternatives to redundancy available that should be considered – and some could deliver business operations as normal, without the loss of staff.

A recent survey from Censuswide and Virgin Money has found that 42 per cent of SMEs in the UK believe they will have a smaller workforce in December than they did in September. This leaves almost a quarter fearing they could go out of business in the next year if the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit the economy hard.

But there is support available, which could prevent businesses from losing valuable staff. The Chancellor recently announced an extension to the Job Support Scheme which supports businesses by offering an alternative to redundancies. Employers should find comfort in this, as the scheme targets businesses facing imminent or forced closure due to the re-implantation of tighter coronavirus restrictions. Now, they are eligible to receive two-thirds of their employees’ wages, up to £2,100 a month.

The Scottish Government has also pledged a further £40 million of financial support which will certainly bring some welcome respite to many of those who have been hardest hit.

If job losses can be avoided, knowing what the viable alternatives are is a good starting point. One resolution is to place staff on a period of “lay-off” or “short-time working” to retain its workforce. This would help them to avoid losing skilled staff they have invested in, rather than making them redundant.

Employers can upskill people by moving staff from quieter areas of the business to cover requirements elsewhere. Some of the greatest benefits of this approach are that it brings versatility and flexibility to the workforce, boosts morale and retains talent, which could play out well as we eventually move into the new normal.

Another option is to consider altering the current terms and conditions of employments, which may help improve the position of the business. For example, looking at reducing contractual working hours, agreeing a salary reduction with staff, or ceasing, reducing or deferring any bonus schemes.

Finally, if these don’t fit the bill, employers can provide their staff with flexible working arrangements and a clear understanding of other routes to help avoid job losses. The honest, upfront, cards on the table approach from the top can help employees feel valued and engaged – and can often results in surprising paths to consider.

Redundancy should, and can, be the last resort for businesses. It’s well known that the knock-on effect doesn’t only impact the economy, but massively impacts people’s lives. There is no denying that there are difficult decisions that lie ahead, however, employers can implement several measures that will help streamline operations, while managing to avoid job losses. This can bring hope to business owners and their employees as the coronavirus pandemic runs on.

Louise McCosh is HR Director at French Duncan LLP