Cumbrian employers are being urged to “be as aware as possible” of the help on offer when renegotiating terms and conditions with employees.

The most recent figures show that nearly one in three businesses have looked to decrease the size of their workforce, while at least one in 10 workers have had to accept changes to their terms and conditions since the first lockdown last March.

Cumbria Chamber is advising business owners to create an open and flexible dialogue with staff while reminding them that there are various streams of advice and legal support open to them.

Managing director Suzanne Caldwell said: “There’s a lot of economic uncertainty at the moment and quite rightly a number of businesses have identified a need to change things and make structural adjustments to survive and thrive.

“Cumbria has a shrinking working-age population. This makes recruitment more difficult and means employers can often fear creating a dialogue of changing terms and conditions in case of any backlash.

“Employers often don’t realise the opportunity they have to set the ethos, tone as well as the contractual arrangements for their work force.

“Employment law is set up to allow them to adapt to the prevailing pressures of the commercial world and it’s well worth exploring the options and opportunities.

Michael Bauer, of Cumbria Employment Solicitors, accepts that the issue stems from a combination of the financial pressure caused by the pandemic, the need for businesses to respond to that pressure and the sometimes mixed blessing of the relative flexibility of the UK labour market.

He said: “The business world is always having to adapt and change but the last 12 months has been something very different.

“We have spent a lot of time advising businesses who have had no choice but to adapt to constantly changing conditions, often in various states of despair, and yet still needing to look to push ahead and pivot to respond to those pressures”.

“While employees, quite properly have rights and protections, employment law is designed to be flexible and allows businesses to tackle problems and adapt.

I often feel the “fear culture” around employment law just impedes business development and makes employers too risk averse. In the long term, that mentality will be detrimental to the business and the whole workforce.

“It’s often that employers feel the legal tail is wagging the commercial dog, and it should undoubtedly be the other way around.

“Employers should not be afraid to tackle the challenges facing them but should also not forget that their decisions, for instance when making redundancies affect people’s lives who like all of us have mortgages and bills to pay.

"Make the tough decisions but do it fairly and respectfully.

“The more difficult the change that you have to make, the more you need to communicate your reasons to staff.

“People are not stupid, they will often get it, they need to be told why you are doing what you are doing, follow proper processes and treat people with respect and fairly but also get done what needs to be done to remain competitive as nothing stands still in business.”

To find out more about he events being held by the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce email or visit the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce website.