How looking after your employees makes sense for SME business recovery

The recovering economy

With the UK facing a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic after the worst quarterly fall in output ever recorded, the economy is facing a critical time. Its recovery will depend on the success of small and medium businesses which account for three fifths of all employment (around 16m people) and around half the turnover within the UK private sector.

The full impact of the coronavirus crisis has yet to be felt and with the trend for the number of infections rising daily[1], the UK is likely to face a long road to economic recovery. It is predicted that unemployment could rise to 3m – 4m, the highest levels since the 1980s. Despite unprecedented levels of government support, high numbers of potential redundancies are anticipated following the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and businesses with low cash reserves face devastating failure in spite of business loan schemes.

According to McKinsey, UK SMEs, particularly those with 50+ employees actively accessed government support with 52 per cent deferring tax payments, 50 per cent putting staff on furlough, 47 per cent claiming business rate relief, and 43 per cent taking advantage of bounce back loans.

Small businesses are currently preoccupied with handling the return to work transition from furlough to employment, including helping their teams to readjust to a workplace culture after months of inactivity, whether they continue to work from home or not. They also find themselves managing the concerns of people who are self-isolating or have been shielding.

As well as being beleaguered by market conditions, SMEs are facing the challenges of keeping their supply chains moving, assessing new ways of working, managing cash flow and responding flexibly to changes in the Government’s measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

According to PWC, businesses in the UK are grappling with issues of future workforce development, keeping abreast of employment law, and keeping a weather eye on changes to regulatory and compliance emerging from the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

In common with businesses of all sizes, SMEs rely on their workforce and the health and wellbeing of people at work has never been more high profile. The coronavirus crisis has brought a fresh focus to matters of wellbeing, including mental health, after the lockdown saw staff placed on furlough, or into self-isolation, or shielding arrangements.

The ‘Stay at Home’ message impacted people in different ways and brought about a new way of working in which employees had no choice but to embrace digital forms of communication.

Good business practice

A review of the top 100 SMEs within the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies To Work For 2020 indicates that the best companies are highly people-centric and value the health and wellbeing of their teams. They tend to be set up and run by family and friends, starting small and growing, with the CEO/founder playing a defining role in the brand. They have flat structures, enjoy an open culture and their employees are more likely to live the values of the brand. Many of these organisations were set up to change the status quo within their industry and operate to achieve a clear mission or goal.

Businesses of this type tend to adopt family-friendly policies and flexible working, and offer dynamic, fun workplaces where employees are trusted to operate as a single, cohesive team. The best small businesses make a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility, promote volunteering opportunities and are active in fund-raising activities for local and national charities. They invest in their employees with appropriate training and rewards including bonuses and profit-related pay, and by subsidising social activities. They offer access to company pension schemes and packages of healthcare benefits.

These SMEs are increasingly focused on employee wellbeing and demonstrate high levels of awareness of the importance of looking after the mental health of their teams, with some having trained mental health first aiders.

According to the International Labour Organisation report ‘Small Matters’, SMEs are responsible for two thirds of jobs worldwide. They are critical engines of development that hire people from disadvantaged groups. There is usually a high proportion of women in senior roles and employee engagement is good. Businesses like these are at the forefront of the green agenda and the economy relies upon them to develop the innovation required to accelerate the battle against climate change.

Struggling alone

 Despite the wide acceptance of the importance of SMEs to economic recovery, there is evidence of poor occupational health and safety within SMEs. In Europe 82 per cent of occupational injuries and 90 per cent of fatal accidents occur in small businesses.

Despite the rise in awareness of, and commitment to, employee health and wellbeing, eight out of ten SMEs currently do not have a support strategy in place and only three per cent of people working in SMEs have access to comprehensive occupational health advice.

 The COVID-19 crisis has served to highlight the primacy of looking after people at work and this extends beyond the imperative to show a duty of care to its material effect on the bottom line.

A study by Occupational Health Today revealed that many small businesses do not have HR functions and so lack the professional expertise on the importance of occupational health. Many operate in fire-fighting mode when it comes to the health of their teams and rely on the support of already overstretched GPs.

Research indicates that only two thirds of small business owners fully understand their obligations with regard to employee rights. A failure to engage with the health and wellbeing of employees can lead to a rise in work-related stress, leaveism, presenteeism, and absence from work, and can increase the burden on business owners through the loss of skills associated with increased staff turnover.

Businesses with employees who are now working from home need to consider the impact on their mental health and wellbeing, ensuring that they are not out of mind while they are out of sight and that they continue to nurture them from a distance.  

In its far-reaching ‘Cost of Doing Nothing’ report, Deloitte highlights that the cost of poor mental health among employees has increased by around 16 per cent in the last three years rising to around £45bn per year. This includes costs associated with absence from work, poor performance through presenteeism, as well as staff turnover costs and loss of skills.    

In particular, the report predicts that mental health issues are set to surpass those related to other prevalent work-related illnesses including as musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory diseases, cancer, skin issues, and hearing damage. Encouragingly, the report notes that the businesses are now starting to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of their employees with an increase in engagement with initiatives such as the Time to Change employer pledge, Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index and the Mental Health at Work Commitment.

Help is on hand

 SMEs are increasingly starting to understand the importance of professional employee support, and the Covid crisis continues to sharpen their awareness of what’s at stake. There is no need for businesses to face these issues alone. After all, they would not hesitate to approach an accountant to assist with their tax affairs, or a broker to secure the appropriate insurances. Professional occupational health services are fully accessible and affordable for SMEs and can help them to take the strain with a range of both preventative and reactive measures.

Occupational health services offer peace of mind for businesses and help them to protect the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees through a proactive approach. Services can range from access to screening and health checks for new and existing staff, referrals for specialist clinical advice and support, help to minimise risk in the workplace, and access to innovative technology to monitor health and wellbeing and prevent problems from escalating. 

Occupation health services are designed to:

  • Reduce sickness absence and presenteeism
  • Help to reduce health risks within the workplace
  • Assist with statutory responsibilities and avoid legal issues
  • Find solutions to improve employees’ health issues
  • Provide clinical advice and guidance for managers dealing with long-term health issues
  • Help to improve productivity and staff retention through the provision of lifestyle and wellbeing advice.

SMEs that fully understand the role of occupational health are better able to protect the wellbeing of their employees, reduce the costs associated with absence, and identify future potential issues before they have an adverse impact on the business.

 As the furlough scheme comes to an end and in order to assist with getting Britain’s economy back on track, Medigold Health is offering 100 free subscriptions to its specialist occupational health package, Medigold Health Protect, which has been designed to support small businesses and help them to manage the employee return to work process. The package includes access to doctors and nurses both remotely and via its specialist clinics for employees with health issues, including those arising from COVID-19, and those who are self-isolating or shielding.

The package also provides health screening for new starters, including access to clinical support where any issues are identified including any Covid-related issues and other sickness absence. Businesses will also benefit from a wide range of wellbeing materials developed by qualified psychologists, and access to a dedicated, NHS approved mental health and wellbeing app.

Alex Goldsmith, CEO of Medigold Health, said, “As we face renewed challenges from the devastating coronavirus pandemic, it has never been more important to focus on the health and wellbeing of our employees.

“The UK’s economy is underpinned by the success of small businesses and that is why we are pleased to offer our support with a free one-year subscription to a health and wellbeing service designed specially to meet their needs. We have spent the last 12 months researching, developing, and testing our revolutionary occupational health subscription service for SMEs, Medigold Health Protect, which was unveiled for the first time this summer. At this critical time in the UK’s recovery, we are delighted to be able to offer this service free of charge to help some small businesses to ‘Build Back Better’.”

When Medigold Health was formed in 1998, it was one of just a handful of businesses offering occupational health and employee wellness services. From a team of just five, Medigold Health has grown into a £33M business employing 530 staff across 70 locations.

Now with more than 2,000 clients looking after 2 million individual employees, Medigold Health employs over 200 occupational health clinicians running 100+ clinics across the UK and operates 26 mobile screening units.

Any UK business with up to 100 employees is eligible to apply for a free one-year subscription. Applications must be received by Friday 20 November 2020.

Alex Goldsmith added, “Workplace health challenges have changed dramatically over the course of 2020, and we understand the pressure that small businesses are encountering as they adapt to a new way of working. We know that looking after our employees well forges loyalty and commitment and helps them to do their best work. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense.”

The Medigold Health Protect package enables businesses to:

  • Refer employees for clinical support in cases of sickness absence
  • Screen new employees for health issues as they start work
  • Support employees returning to work after recovering from COVID-19
  • Advise staff who have been self-isolating or shielding
  • Help to affect a smooth transition for those returning to work from furlough.

To take advantage of our free offer, available until 20 November 2020, simply complete the contact form on the link below and we will be in touch.


[1] Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK