How Can Small Businesses Help to Keep Staff Healthy?

July 6th, 2016

Staff wellbeing is increasingly recognised as being important for all businesses in the UK, including small companies. As providers of fully serviced offices for a large number of SMEs, at Basepoint we take a close interest in key issues affecting our licensees, including the whole area of health.

Larger organisations’ health and wellbeing policies may tend to get more publicity than those drawn up by smaller companies, but small firms can have many advantages as healthy places to work. For example, they often tend to be more flexible in their whole approach, with the ability to tailor job conditions to the individual employee. It is also likely each worker will feel more valued – this helps to create job satisfaction and engagement, which promote better health.

So what are the health issues affecting small companies and what can be done to create a healthier working culture?

Health Issues for SMEs

As well as being unpleasant for the individual concerned, illness affects businesses. Sickness absence takes a major toll on UK companies, with one estimate suggesting the annual cost to employers comes to around £29 billion. Long-term sickness also involves heavy costs, and the Centre for Economics and Business Research recently estimated that the UK private sector loses more than £4 billion annually because of staff who are ill for 6 months or longer.

The loss of key staff for any length of time can be especially damaging for a small company. It means others have to pick up their work, which could mean that they become overstretched and there is a greater risk of them becoming ill too. You may also have to pay overtime or hire temporary workers, while at the same time meeting the cost of sick pay. Nearly half of small companies questioned in one survey said losing a key staff member for a long period could impact the growth of their business.

Steps to Improve Wellbeing

Probably the most important move is to talk to staff and find out what their concerns are, and what they feel could be done to create a healthier culture. Here is a look at a few other steps which small companies can take to improve staff health and wellbeing.

Healthy Eating – Nationally, unhealthy eating and associated health conditions, including the growth of obesity, are causing serious concerns. Larger businesses can tackle this by offering healthy menus in canteens and cafes, which probably won’t be an option for most SMEs. However, other ideas include bringing in free fruit for employees and encouraging staff to try healthy snacks rather than bringing in too many cakes and biscuits. It’s also good to drink water regularly during the day, which is easier if your office building has a water cooler. Also, if you have a separate breakout area, this will enable staff to relax and take a proper break at mealtimes.

Taking Exercise – Health problems can be caused by spending very long periods at a desk without moving around. Even if there is a lot of work on, it’s good to go outside during breaks and get some fresh air. Taking a full hour for lunch rather than very short breaks can help here, allowing time to go for a walk as well as eating. This is actually likely to boost productivity by avoiding people getting overtired. You might also want to look into initiatives such as promoting cycling to work.

Taking Time Off – Small business owners in particular are sometimes tempted not to take all of their annual leave because of pressure of work, and may also end up working extra hours in the evening and at weekends. However, working round the clock and all through the calendar carries a risk of burnout. Everybody needs a break sometimes. It is also helpful if staff are able to take time off when necessary during the working day to attend doctors’ or hospital appointments, as this means any health problems can be dealt with before they develop further.

Focus on Mental Health and Stress – The damaging effects of stress are increasingly being recognised, and related conditions are responsible for a lot of long-term sick leave. The Federation of Small Businesses has joined forces with mental health charity Mind to offer some advice. Steps they advise include creating a supportive office culture, with regular catch-up meetings where staff can voice any concerns, and talking to any staff member who is experiencing stress problems to see what changes might be needed to their working environment, hours or workload. Access to counselling helplines can also be helpful.

Some small companies may also want to offer specific health and wellbeing benefits, such as subsidised gym memberships and private health insurance. If you are thinking of offering any of these initiatives, it is a good idea to talk to other companies that have used them, for views on how effective they are and the level of take-up.

Basepoint’s fully serviced offices, in locations including Exeter, Luton and Bromsgrove, are geared to healthy working, with facilities including water coolers and break-out areas. We also organise a range of networking sessions and seminars, while our MiBase service offers free mentoring to help with any concerns licensees may have, including workplace health.

Fully Serviced Offices  – Click for a quick quote if you are considering moving into Basepoint’s affordable office accommodation.