Message for Cumbrian employers to use an open dialogue with staff

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is urging employers to be as aware as possible of the resources available to help them 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.

It is a turbulent time in the labour market, and large companies such as British Gas and its owner Centrica are being targeted for ‘hire and fire’ tactics.

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.

The Chamber’s 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. But it’s fundamental to get the process right.

“We offer a selection of tools and training advice and other information to help businesses reassess their working practices in the most constructive way which helps both them and their employees.”

The UK historically struggles with youth unemployment compared to other countries like Germany, and these struggles can be magnified in difficult periods as employers look to cut their cloth accordingly.

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 that 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.”

Cumbria Chamber regularly holds training sessions addressing issues like these with experts such as Michael Bauer, of Cumbria Employment Solicitors, involved earlier this week in our well attended event focused on Practical Guidance on Handling Redundancies Effectively.

Next month the Chamber is running an event on Tackling Under-performing Staff and in June there is a two-day session on Essential Guidance for HR Managers, with several later this year. See upcoming training sessions here. If you have any queries about the upcoming training please email our Business Solutions Manager, Catherynn Dunstan at

The Growth Hub can also offer support through the Consultancy Subsidy which offers a 40% subsidy up to £1,500 towards a range of areas, including legal advice. You can find out more about them by emailing

© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce