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Why a healthier workplace is good for a small business, and simple ways to achieve it

May 26, 2016

Small businesses and start-ups are particularly vulnerable to staff health issues. If you’re a small business of five staff when suddenly one of the team is off sick with a chronic back complaint, then the business is trying to operate with only 80% of the workforce.

The increased workload this pushes on to other staff can soon create problems. The extra pressure can cause mistakes to be made, customers to be lost and staff to become stressed and a booming business can rapidly spiral into decline.

While it may not be top priority, there are several common sense health and wellbeing steps that will not only protect your small business but also pay significant dividends over time. If your staff are healthier, they’re going to have fewer days of sick leave and you could also see a boost in productivity.

With the value of workplace health being increasingly recognised, we asked Rosie Bambury of the Better Health at Work Alliance, to explain how small businesses can benefit from a bigger focus on employee health.

Workplace health isn’t a priority for small businesses

Anyone running a small business or striving to get a start-up off the ground knows all about the trials and tribulations involved. There are a million things to do, decisions large and small to be made and a whole load of prioritising of time and resources.

Add it all up and you’ve got a fuller plate than most, so it is entirely understandable therefore that spending a huge amount of effort on developing an effective workplace health strategy doesn’t always make it to the top of the list.

It is easy to find ourselves wrapped up in short-term necessity when in reality we went into the whole enterprise with a broad longer term vision. We still pursue our main goal, THE big idea, but we can sometimes lose sight of the things we first set out to do on the human side and, as a consequence, employee wellbeing drops down the pecking order.

Smaller businesses are hardest hit by ill health in the workplace

The truth is, however, that while improving health at work is beneficial for all organisations it is particularly relevant for small businesses who can be the hardest hit by disruption caused by ill health.

The earlier example of a 5-person business shows just how exposed a small enterprise can be. Anyone can be ill, but the wise choice as a small business owner is to mitigate against such eventualities from the outset – being proactive rather than reactive is the entrepreneurial choice too.

As a business owner exploring workplace health for the first time, you can be met by a barrage of seemingly abstract ideas referring to integrated approaches, strategies, working interventions, mindfulness and behavioural or organisational change. But it’s important for small employers not to be put off as, when you drill through, they are often actually highly relevant, easy to implement and, vitally, effective.

We recently launched the Better Health at Work Alliance (BHWA) to help businesses get to grips with the subject by providing free advice along with a platform to access a broad range of work health specialisms.

Simple measures to boost health and productivity

There are several common sense and simple measures you can take to help deliver the productivity and engagement rewards you are looking for. If you are able to get the environment right, you are sure to see gains.

Creating a healthy physical work space in which desks, monitors and chairs don’t compromise health and wellbeing is a great start, as is encouraging a positive health at work culture whereby staff are clear that their good health is a key business interest.

Keeping employees active is great for their health and has recently been linked to improving performance. Getting your staff to try a few desk-based exercises, for example, opens up a number of ways you can encourage active working and help prevent some common aches and pains.

Early intervention can help raise health awareness and identify issues before they become problems, so an Occupational Health professional can give valuable advice to employers. They can help to not only facilitate the earliest possible return to work of a staff member but also provide health surveillance such as onsite screening for occupational disease or organise proactive health promotion days.

Removing the stigma from mental health is another great supportive measure that can pay off for employers of any size but it is essential for smaller employers. Stigmas in intimate working communities can do damage to performance and trust across a team and sadly isolate individuals.

But perhaps the key lesson for small employers is never to assume you know what is needed to bring about better health outcomes. It is more productive to consult with your team and to take in what they say. And don’t be afraid of what you might hear as the fact that you are asking the questions tends to show staff you care about their wellbeing – but keep on listening.

These guides will also give you some more good pointers;

Key action points – A checklist to better employee health

This check-list will help you to see the benefits of better staff health in your business;

1. Evaluate the health strategy you already have in place – see if it is working and learn how you can improve it

2. Think about a health audit – whether it centres on risk, wellness or engagement, you can identify what will benefit your organisation and where urgent action is needed

3. Ask for help – seek advice from experts who can assess your needs and make specific recommendations

4. Look sideways and use a multi-disciplinary approach – mix science and technology with expert consultancy from clinical specialists or add health checks and wellbeing days into your policy

5. Insist on quality – solid accreditations say a lot and qualifications are essential for many professions

6. Create a culture – don’t just tick statutory boxes, make workplace health part of your organisation’s DNA

7. Get creative with your budget – enhance your strategy with proactive company policies and staff initiatives that improve employee wellness

8. Get FULL buy-in – work health strategies work best when decision makers lead from the front to train line managers and ensure all staff are engaged and involved.

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Rosie Bambury of the Better Health at Work Alliance (BHWA), the new industry body for health at work.

More on helping and motivating staff

For more tips and ideas on how to hire, motivate and keep great staff, read these guides;

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