Employee wellbeing benefits don’t require large budgets – listening to what employees want and getting regular feedback on existing benefits packages will go a long way towards fostering a healthy and happy workforce, explains Marianna Roach.
It’s often believed that SMEs lack the resources to invest in employee wellbeing. But in truth, it’s usually easier to improve and maintain wellbeing in smaller organisations.
In smaller teams it’s easier to introduce and maintain the right enabling culture, build a “family feeling” in the company, include people in the design and roll out of new initiatives and monitor progress. I know this from experience – after a long career working for bigger organisations, I joined an SME as an HR and talent manager last autumn.
Here’s what I learned about maximising employee wellbeing at SMEs – without turning it into a box-ticking exercise.
Tailor your benefits
The chances are that when you join a small business in an HR capacity, a number of wellbeing initiatives will already be in place. Some will be fairly traditional, some will be quite innovative, some will be contractual, and some will operate more as casual understandings between line managers and their direct reports. Overall, some will be relevant and work really well – and others won’t.
While there will very likely be a clear need to introduce new benefits, it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. When it comes to staff wellbeing, the aim should never be to take away the perks that employees enjoy, nor should it be to add perks that they have no real use for. Running a focus group with current members of the team will help identify what they like, what they don’t have much use for, and what they’d like to see implemented.
At my current workplace, for example, there’s a diverse group of employees at various life stages: some are recent graduates who don’t yet know how they want to progress their careers; some are looking to buy their first house; and some are established and have already built families. A benefits package built solely on funky extras such as beanbag chairs and free sweets wouldn’t cut it.
Accordingly, we developed our initiatives in alignment with their desires and preferences. We kept some benefits such as annual wellbeing bonuses, fresh fruit every day, and early finishes on the last Friday of the month; formalised others such as working from home and a fitness scheme; and introduced new ones such as a health cash plan and enhanced pension contributions.
To create a benefits package that appeals to everyone, it’s important to be attentive and responsive to employee needs.
Empower and include your team
Listening to your team is important, but so is including them. Forming a wellbeing and social committee comprised of various team members can be a good way to make them feel they have some control over their benefits and social activities.
It’s often less daunting for employees to relate their opinions to a group of their colleagues than a manager. In a committee, their opinions have equal weight to those of senior and junior employees alike. This makes it easier for quieter voices to assert themselves – and therefore easier to arrive at a consensus that works for the whole team.
That said, empowering your team isn’t all there is to it. Introduce a regular employee survey to identify any issues that the business may need to address and to track progress on employee experience.
You can’t neglect personal development, onboarding, or training – and good line managers who understand the importance of having regular conversations with their direct reports are essential. Empathy, support, and listening are necessary – even if you allow staff to take the lead in other areas.
The cost of doing business benefits
Forming a wellbeing and social committee comprised of various team members can be a good way to make them feel they have some control over their benefits and social activities.”
Introducing the new wellbeing package at my SME came to about £24,000 in total: less than the estimated cost of replacing one employee.
The new initiatives are projected to extend employee tenure by at least six months, increase employee engagement score by 5-10%, and boost Net Promoter Score by 10%. Regular surveys indicate that employees are seeing positive changes already.
Wellbeing can’t be an arbitrary tick-box exercise. Businesses must be proactive about responding to their employees’ desires and needs – they don’t have unlimited budgets, but that doesn’t mean they can’t introduce important changes to their benefits packages.
Here, small organisations have a distinct advantage: they’re not great lumbering bureaucracies, and so can be dynamic, responsive, and thoughtful about how they develop their wellbeing strategies.
Don’t settle for an off-the-shelf benefits package: every set of employees has distinct requirements. Work to keep your employees happy and they’ll be happy to keep working for you.