Over the last few years, large corporations have become obsessed with the mental health and wellbeing of their employees. And they’ve made a lot of progress – from providing fresh fruit and gym memberships. Now a lot of organisations are starting to train their staff to better understand mental ill health.
These larger businesses consider the impact of office design on wellbeing, provide apps for their employees to monitor exercise, food, and sleep, and some countries have even started legislating for businesses to have mental health first aiders on site.
But small business owners have already got so much to consider. So how can employee wellbeing ever hope to feature in their business plan? And moreover, how can it be a secret ingredient for success?
Well, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news
There is a link between wellbeing, engagement and productivity. Unfortunately, all the apps, office design and fruit baskets in the world can’t fix employee wellbeing.
As a small business, you have an advantage over those huge conglomerates which can afford all these add-on benefits. It’s been proven in numerous studies that good mental health and wellbeing in the workplace starts not with peripheral benefits but with running a good organisation that cares about its staff.
Without the hierarchy and the bureaucracy, which is often endemic in a large company, small business culture is very much set by the owner.
The bad news
Running a small business gives you marvellous autonomy and creativity, but it also carries a big personal stress factor of accountability. Accountability for salaries, bad debt, success and failure.
This can inevitability take a toll on those who hold the responsibility. And this can lead to a lack of sleep, irritability, controlling tendencies, increasing workloads, or whatever your particular go-to behaviour is when your security is under threat.
Your corporate wellbeing is only as good as your own self-awareness, commitment to self-mastery and ability to listen to your employees.
Stress risk factors
There’s a lot of research to show what causes stress in the workplace. However, stress outside the workplace is more difficult to influence. Whether your employee is off for a work or personal issue makes no difference to the work you must manage in their absence and on their return.
While some people go through personal issues and cannot work, others seek refuge in it. For some dealing with a work issue at the same time as a family issue can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
So here are six ways you can check that you’re managing employees’ stress levels effectively:
- Check whether you are asking too much in terms of the demands of the job. Do you lead by example: switching off at weekends and sending emails at reasonable hours? Even people who thrive under pressure can take on too much.
- Provide resources and systems that are fit for purpose. Make sure you’re making time for your team to talk to you about what’s important to them. Make sure each member of the team understands their role and how it intersects with others. SSmall businesses can arguably more easily provide employees with purpose and meaning in a way that’s harder for a large organisation.
- Provide your team with as much autonomy as you can. How flexible are you in terms of when and where the job is done? Most people have multiple demands on their time, so managing output rather than hours spent at the office can be a great way forward.
- Promote good relationships in the team and deal with conflict constructively when it arrives.
- Involve the team in change – don’t just impose it on them.
- Pay and reward fairly.
As well as the need to manage our physical selves, we need a human connection, and there is no substitute from a business owner than really caring about your team.
But be sure to look after your own physical and emotional wellbeing first. You cannot pour from an empty cup, and happy and engaged employees starts with you.
About the author
Heather Beach, Founder of The Healthy Work Company, is fascinated by what makes people thrive in life. A student of positive psychology, she runs a business specialising in mental health and stress management for businesses. Heather is an ex-director for a FTSE 250 company, where she ran their health and safety division publishing magazines. She also ran their conferences and information services. She has worked with businesses such as Eurostar, ITV, The Telegraph, UBM Amsterdam and Luton Airport. As a small business owner working with large corporations, she tries very hard to practice what she preaches, but she isn’t always perfect.