Small business wellbeing: How to look after your employees' health

Small business wellbeing: How to look after your employees' health

Posted: Mon 13th May 2019

From centuries-old stalwarts such as Royal Mail through to tech-driven innovators like Netflix, big businesses around the globe are taking wellbeing very seriously.

For small businesses competing for the same employees and customers, keeping pace with the health innovations on offer from major enterprises might seem daunting. But there are plenty of great wellbeing innovations that small start-ups can achieved just as easily as long-standing multinationals.

Here are some ideas that businesses of any size can implement that will have a significant impact on staff wellbeing.

Make a pledge

Individual employee pledges can be a great way of helping staff within your company identify and stick to a wellbeing goal. This could be as simple as asking staff to identify one thing that they'd like to change, write it on a note and physically put it onto a board.

  • Why it works: A shared commitment to change makes both businesses and individuals more likely to achieve their goals. That's true both for employers (who will be held accountable by their workforce) and individuals (who answer to their peers).

    For employers, making a public pledge is an irreversible obligation to take staff's mental health seriously.

  • Things to consider: Not all employees will feel comfortable publicly sharing a fitness goal, especially if their medical priorities are acute or sensitive. As such, it's important to make involvement optional.

    However, even if employees don't feel ready to make a change themselves, they might be inspired by others' determination to do so.

Give back through volunteering

Pension scheme provider NEST offers its employees up to four days a year (on top of their annual leave) to take part in volunteering work.

The projects the company has contributed to include clearing 2.5 acres of land to improve garden space for children and their families at a local hospice for young people with life-limiting illnesses.

  • Why it works: 'Social wellbeing' is increasingly recognised as an important part of supporting good mental health. Volunteering work can help build a positive spirit and if a group of colleagues work on a project together, it can have the added benefit of strengthening workplace relationships.

    It can also allow staff to develop new skills or take on different roles that bring benefits to their day jobs.

  • Things to consider: There are many ways to structure a volunteering programme, from enabling all colleagues to take one or two days a year to work with a project of their choice, through to identifying a partner charity that everyone works with.

    In the second scenario, finding a cause that resonates equally with all employees can sometimes be a challenge. Making sure that everyone has the opportunity to take their volunteering days can be tricky when deadlines are tight.

Take unlimited leave

Imagine being able to take all the time off you need, rather than having to cram all your personal plans into a fixed allowance each year. Media provider Netflix and online recruiter Indeed are just two of an increasing number of employers that have introduced an unlimited paid annual leave policy.

  • Why it works: Employees don't have to worry about running out of holiday for unforeseen reasons. That can cut down on 'sickies', which are really days people take to care for family, for example.

    Unlimited time off lets employees recharge properly, reducing stress and improving the work-life balance. It also demonstrates that the employer trusts its employees to do their work without the need for too many rules and regulations.

  • Things to consider: While unlimited leave might sound liberating for employees and employers alike, it still requires careful planning.

    There is a risk that employees take less rather than more holiday each year, contributing to workplace stress and poor work-life balance. To address that, some companies specify that workers must take a minimum number of days each year.

    Employees' holidays still need to fit in with work needs. That can make it difficult to treat all staff fairly and ensure they're able to take advantage of the benefit.

Share stories

Good mental wellbeing is about building a culture of openness, which can start right at the top. Lloyds Banking Group (LBS) CEO Antonio Horta-Osario has been open both to his own staff and the wider world about his personal battles with mental health.

He's spearheaded organisation-wide change at LBS, introducing a culture of being able to talk openly about mental health issues at work.

Royal Mail has also worked hard to build openness around mental health and to encourage its 150,000 staff to become more willing to talk. As a part of its 'Because Healthy Minds Matter' programme, the company trained and supported 80 mental health ambassadors.

These were members of staff from across the organisation who made themselves available to support colleagues, listen, and direct them towards other sources of help if they needed it. The ambassadors wear a compass badge to identify themselves.

  • Why it works: Everyone has a part to play in building an open culture around mental health. Input from senior leaders shows that the whole business is committed to taking mental health seriously and using techniques such as 'mental health selfies' helps to spark conversations.

  • Things to consider: There can be a real stigma about discussing mental health concerns at work. Some groups of employees may be more comfortable about this than others and it could take some time to encourage all staff to become part of a more open culture.

    It's also important for employees to know how to support colleagues effectively and when to refer them to other sources of help. Mental health first-aid training can be a real advantage in making sure employees are properly equipped to help.

Go the extra mile

If you really want employees to use your cycle-to-work scheme, why not find a member of staff (or an outside organisation) who can provide free bike maintenance workshops, or offer cycle safety training?

Some employers have even gone as far as providing a 'get you home' scheme for employees who cycle, offering them a quicker way to return home in an emergency.

  • Why it works: A benefit such as a cycle-to-work scheme can be great in principle, but staff might not be confident about using a bike, or feel that commitments to young or elderly family members excludes them from cycling.

    Helping employees overcome some of those barriers could mean more staff take advantage and encourage others to follow suit.

  • Things to consider: No matter how good it is for you, cycling won't appeal to all employees. Adding value to a cycle scheme won't be of benefit to those employees who simply aren't interested.

Get everyone involved

Workplace healthcare is changing rapidly and health insurance benefits that might once have been the exclusive domain of executives and senior managers are now available for the whole of the workforce. For example, Equipsme's health and wellbeing plans are specifically designed to cover the whole of a workforce and start at £20 per person per month.

With 63% of businesses now seeing workplace health and wellbeing as a core business issue, being able to offer cover for all of your staff can mean quicker treatment and peace of mind for employees, as well as reducing the cost of sickness for employers.

Relevant resources

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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