More than two-fifths of small- and medium-sized employers say labour shortages (46 per cent) and employee retention (42 per cent) are among their top business concerns for 2024, according to a new survey by Peninsula Employment Services Ltd.

The survey, which polled 79,000 SMEs across Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the U.K., found more than half (56 per cent) said they’re offering financial remuneration to help retention, including two-thirds (65 per cent) of Canadian SMEs. Those who were unable to give financial incentives reported using reward and recognition to aid retention, a 131 per cent increase year over year.

Nearly half (47 per cent) of SMEs reported investing in upskilling and training existing staff, with apprenticeships seeing a 36 per cent increase globally. Canadian employers reported a massive 217 per cent increase in apprenticeships year over year.

Read: Nearly half of U.S. SMEs offering retirement savings plans to boost attraction, retention efforts: survey

While mental-health support was highly valued in all countries, less than half (49 per cent) of respondents said they’re continuing to offer it — an increase of eight per cent from last year. Indeed, only U.K. respondents cited mental health as the second highest retention aid.

Roughly two per cent of global SMEs reported moving to a four-day workweek, with another 0.6 per cent reporting it didn’t work for them. Half (50 per cent) of employers said all their employees are in the workplace full time, while 15 per cent noted they have flexible working hours and 10 per cent said they made hybrid working a permanent policy.

“Compared to this time last year, there has been a notable surge in employers dedicating greater resources to the development and growth of their staff,” said Raj Singh, chief executive officer of Peninsula Canada, in a press release. “By prioritizing the professional growth of their employees, businesses not only mitigate the effects of labour shortages but also cultivate a skilled and motivated workforce, fill in gaps in the workplace and set the foundation for continued success in the ever-evolving business landscape.”

Read: 87% of SMEs say employee mental-health support is important to business success: survey