Many SMEs think that well-being strategies are confined to big corporates. They are wrong. A study commissioned by private medical insurer AXA PPP Healthcare found that eight out of ten of the UK’s SMEs have no health and wellbeing strategy in place.
But, nearly half of 1,500 SME employees polled in the survey said they did not have time to look after their well-being and felt reluctant to take a rest for fear of letting the team down. In fact, the survey also revealed that a whopping 67 percent of employees experience work-related stress or anxiety.
AXA PPP healthcare CEO Tracy Garrad said: “Burnout is now recognized by the World Health Organisation as an occupational phenomenon.
“It’s becoming a workplace epidemic that poses significant risks for small businesses.”
There are many reasons SMEs need a workplace well-being strategy. Here are the most poignant ones:
1. The UK economy
According to Business Statistics released by Parliament UK, there were 5.7 million SMEs in the UK in 2018, which was over 99 percent of all businesses. If the World Health Organisation’s concerns about employee well-being in SMEs are true, a lack of investment in workplace health could not only be hampering the success of individual businesses, it also poses a significant risk to the economy too.
The workplace well-being agenda is growing in importance and government is equally invested in resolving the issues around burnout and absenteeism. With Brexit on the horizon (whatever form it takes), we could be facing turbulent times. Businesses have a role to play in ensuring the British economy thrives and society flourishes.
2. The Digital age
Last year, HR Magazine reported that SMEs are close to breaking point because of an ‘always-on’ culture.
Research from CV-Library reveals that a staggering 72.4 percent of Brits reply to work-related emails or make work-related calls in their own free time.
This ‘always-on’ culture is a direct result of our digital age. It is undoubtedly having a negative effect on work-life balance and employee health.
Working with the charity, Healthy Working Futures, the government body Public Health Matters co-produced a Workplace Health Needs Assessment toolkit to support employers to gather more information on their workplace health.
Public Health England is working closely with the Business Community to offer advice, tips, case studies and promote simple actions every business can take to improve workplace well-being. Workplace well-being strategies are needed now more than ever before to counteract our ‘always-on’ culture and preserve employee health.
3. Productivity and business success
Personnel Today report that significant evidence exists to support the link between well-being at work and productivity. The case is presented as such:
“There is a business case for action (improving the bottom line), a moral case (the ‘right thing to do’) and a taxation case (lost productivity and long-term sickness absence mean lower corporate tax returns and higher spend on long-term health-care and disability benefits).
Small business owner and advocate of The Workplace Well-being Charter Mike Knivett said: “Without our best people in optimum health we are nothing. Businesses must recognise the importance of employee well-being in relation to productivity and business success.
“At Artemis Marketing we have set up a number of committees under our Pride and Belonging umbrella to support employee development and well-being strategies. We want our employees to thrive, glow and grow.
“Fostering employee well-being is a big part of our strategy to create a positive working environment. We rely on our employees for innovation and success so it makes perfect sense to cultivate a healthy workplace.”
4. The cost of absence and presenteeism
A huge proportion of the UK’s SMEs are micro-businesses employing less than 10 people. While sickness absence is a challenge for any business, larger organisations can usually cover or weather absenteeism much more easily than a small business. In fact, in a micro business, the absence of a key member of staff can have a seriously big impact.
While sickness absence isn’t completely unavoidable, a well-being policy can help to prevent employee ill-health occurring, especially instances as a result of workplace stress.
The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals the number of working days lost through sickness absence per worker in the UK has fallen from 178 million to 131 million over the last 24 years.
However, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/18 as a result of work-related stress, anxiety or depression.
In an interview with The Telegraph, General secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Frances O’Grady said: “Work-related stress is a growing epidemic, it’s time employers and the Government took it more seriously.”
The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) also writes of a rising epidemic of presenteeism (people coming into work when they are ill). If employees are turning up to work when they are not fully fit, they won’t be working at their best and this is likely to have a negative impact on colleagues around them. The IES suggests that while absenteeism may be down, “UK productivity remains stubbornly low.”
SMEs are not too small to have a well-being strategy. The benefits are clear. If you are an SME leader, ignore them at your peril.
About the author: Mike James is an experienced business writer specializing in HR, tech, and cybersecurity. On the latter, he has contributed to many of the leading publications both online and in print – such as StaySafeOnline, GlobalSign, Tech London and more.