HR · 6 January 2016

Here’s why micro firms should lead the way on employee wellbeing in 2016

employee wellbeing
You don’t need a big HR budget to help employees cope with work and life stresses

The leaders of micro firms regularly punch above their weight across a whole range of criteria, from exporting to innovation. Now the owners of the UK’s smallest businesses need to make the most of their unique position to help employees beat stress and anxiety – in and out of the workplace.

Staff wellbeing should be on every micro firm employer’s mind at this time of year, which can be one of the most difficult for workers. Whether it’s fretting about catching up with email backlogs, or struggling to concentrate on work because of anxiety about post-Christmas finances, employee worrying is expected to peak in January as part of a post-festive comedown.

As the first working week of the year gets into full swing, research by MetLife has revealed that some three-quarters of employees experience stress at the prospect of going back to work after the Christmas break.

But though workplace stress is in the limelight at the moment, it’s a problem year round, with mental ill health costing the UK economy some £70bn a year through absences and low productivity – both of which can be particularly damaging to the smallest employers.

And although more than two-thirds of business leaders think that that their organisation needs to do more to prevent stress, uncertainty about how to address it is putting many employers off tackling the problem.

For the majority of micro businesses with no dedicated HR function, efforts to tackle psychological wellbeing amongst staff have to come from owner-managers, which can present a challenge to business leaders without formal people management training.

Yet the smallest firms have lots of other advantages which make owners ideally placed to help address employee wellbeing.

The staff of micro enterprises are more connected to the organisations they work for than their counterparts at larger firms. The Chartered Institute for Personnel Development’s Spring 2015 “Employee Outlook” report found that almost two-thirds of the employees of micro businesses are engaged with the company – a higher proportion than of any other category surveyed, surpassing the rate of engagement of those in the voluntary sector.

The same survey revealed that 69 per cent of micro firm staff see the company they work for as one with a family feel, and look up to managers as mentors – so micro business owners that can provide support and advice are likely to be listened to.

If uncertainty about how to address it is putting employers off, there is a wealth of advice available. The Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) has just launched new modules to help managers learn about mental health in partnership with social enterprise Maudsley learning – and with mindfulness constantly in the spotlight, there is certainly no shortage of resources online offering suggestions to increase happiness.

At the same time, helping employees overcome work phobias can be achieved in the course of normal workflow if managers keep an eye out for tasks staff are avoiding out of fear. Recruitment site CV-Library recently uncovered the aspects of work that UK employees fear the most, and found that vital workplace skills like giving presentations and speaking on the phone came high on the list.

The survey also showed that some ten per cent of workers respond to the impending prospect of tasks they don’t like by ignoring them for as long as possible.

Small employers are far better placed to notice if employees are shirking responsibilities out of fear – and many of these common work phobias need practice and gentle nagging, rather than costly training, to conquer.

Sometimes, of course wellbeing issues are not directly related to work – with health problems, personal relationships or a lack of sleep reducing productivity.

But even with concerns that aren’t directly related to their job, employees have consistently told researchers that they’d appreciate support.

Research by Barclays carried out in 2014 showed that 40 per cent of employees would move jobs if a company promised them support in managing their personal finances – and who better to offer advice on budgeting than the owners of resilient young companies?

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

HR