Workplace Mental Health for SME’s

Pandering to the mental health of employees is a fluffy, woke distraction that gets in the way of the daily business of trying to turn a profit. This mindset is still very evident in the business landscape where a sizeable proportion of employers say they have no plans to incorporate mental health or wellbeing support into their workplace culture. And why, given the myriad of other challenges of running a business, should they bother?

Well, there are 3 main reasons:

Why invest in mental health and wellbeing?

Firstly, it’s the law. Every employer has a legal responsibility to safeguard their employees under the terms of the Health & Safety Act (1974) and the Equality Act (2010). Defining what constitutes a reasonable duty of care is unhelpfully vague, however in either a health and safety or employment tribunal case you’d certainly want to be able to show that you have taken some proactive measures to safeguard your staff. Negligence can be very costly, if not ruinous.

Beyond the law, there’s a really strong business case for ensuring the wellbeing of your staff. According to a recent, well circulated report by Deloitte, the average ROI for investing in wellbeing is 5:1.

Over half of all UK staff sick days are attributed to poor mental health in the form of work-related stress, burnout and depression. If staff absence is high, then it will follow that staff turnover will also be high. The cost of days lost to sickness, and the added cost of recruiting replacement staff, can be substantial and smaller business can suffer disproportionately. Any preventative measure is bound to improve the bottom line, and in any case, happier employees are more likely to be productive. Performance and output will go up as a consequence. 

Finally, there’s the moral stance. Who wants to be an employer that demonstrably doesn’t care for the wellbeing of its people or worse, tolerates a toxic working culture. Word soon gets around, especially in the age of Glassdoor and social media. On the other hand, responsible employers benefit from enhanced reputation amongst clients and customers, as well as prospective employees and suppliers. It’s a win – win. 

So that’s the case for viewing staff wellbeing an investment rather than an expense. But how can it be implemented by SME’s?


A Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for SME’s

Most larger organisations now take mental health very seriously and for good reason. They recognise the importance of a healthy workforce and usually have the resources to provide effective support. They will most likely have an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) and also Mental Health Champions or Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA’s). This can be supplemented by offering a range of wellness apps, meditation, massages, counselling and therapy sessions, or fitness perks like gym membership or wellness apps. Even puppy handling can be included!

Providing this level of care is likely to be beyond the financial ability or organisational experience of most SME’s. Besides, all of this can still be ineffective if the various interventions have been implemented organically on the basis that you throw enough mud, some will hopefully stick. It’s far from an uncommon approach.

What’s needed is an initial assessment of the working culture and the appetite for support in each case. A solution would normalise conversations around mental health and offer preventative measures through education and awareness. It would help to build staff wellbeing into the business culture and such a proactive approach would go a long way to meeting the legal, business and moral criteria set out earlier. 

Fortunately, there are very affordable employee wellbeing platforms and apps available online to help smaller businesses implement an effective, coherent strategy with confidence. They would be a good place to start.   

This article first appeared in Business Voice (Q.2 2024).

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Nadun Baduge
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