by Chirag Shah, Founder of Nucleus Commercial Finance.
Employee mental health has become the number one concern among employers since the Covid-19 pandemic. Millions of office workers were suddenly told to start working from home and, over time, many became increasingly isolated and developed conditions such as anxiety and depression. This was even more prevalent in technology firms and startups, where employees work remotely online much of the time.
The fact that workers’ mental health has gone to the top of the agenda is reflected in our survey of businesses, with 15% of senior decision-makers citing it as their main concern. But it’s not only staff that are affected, with 10% saying they were worried about the senior team’s mental health.
Longer-term, 25% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) listed the mental health of the workforce as one of the top three threats they face over the next year. Eleven percent even cited it as the main threat.
Lockdown also took its toll on people’s physical well-being, with people being restricted in their movements. Accordingly, nine percent of respondents raised concerns over the workforce’s physical health and seven percent about that of the senior team.
Other staffing concerns included a shallow talent pool to select from (12%) and the quiet quitting of employees (eight percent). They are trends that show no signs of abating as people increasingly seek a better quality of life and greater work benefits.
As well as worker well-being, concerns over increasing costs dominated the results of our findings. The biggest expense is internal costs, including staffing and rent, which continue to be pushed up by rising inflation, according to 40% of the businesses surveyed.
External costs, such as their supply chain, have gone up too because of inflation, 35% said. At the same time, utility costs have continued to shoot up as global energy prices have gone through the roof over the last year, driven by the Ukraine conflict (37%). In addition, labour costs are increasing wage bills, as companies try to keep up with inflation.
Lack of action
More concerningly, perhaps, is the lack of action by firms to tackle these problems. In terms of mental health, only seven percent of respondents said that they allow staff to take mental health days, while just four percent have increased the perks they provide employees.
While SMEs clearly recognise these business threats, however, they haven’t done much about them. Over one-fifth (21%) said that they hadn’t taken any action to mitigate them, while only nine percent said they had.
Of those that had taken action, they focused primarily on three key areas. These were: increasing their product or service price (26%), relying on switching utility or service provider to mitigate the cost impact (17%) and focussing on upskilling employees (13%).
Providing regular check-ups
There are many steps that SMEs can take to address these issues. And they don’t have to break the bank either.
Where mental health is concerned, firms should seek to provide more help to staff. This should take the form of regular check-ups to make sure that they are okay, seeking and taking on board feedback from them to see how they can improve their working environment and help protect their mental well-being, and providing them with the time and space they need, when they need it.
Companies must also offer benefits such as counselling and therapy if their employees require it. They should also encourage remote workers to come into the office to interact with their colleagues or have more online team meetings where they can connect with them.
When it comes to rising costs, businesses need to look at where they can make the most significant savings. Internally, that means reducing expenses such as rent by negotiating a better rate or moving to cheaper premises, in order to improve margins and liquidity.
While external costs are harder to control, there are measures that organisations can take to bring them down. They include going direct to or changing suppliers and striking better deals and terms.
SMEs can also make small adjustments to save energy, such as turning off switches, installing energy-efficient and renewable technology and monitoring consumption. By doing this, over time, they can gradually reduce their bills, at same time as doing their bit for the environment.
Small steps can make a big difference in improving the outcomes for all. Everyone stands to benefit: businesses can keep a lid on costs while knowing that their employees’ well-being is being properly looked after.