While UK small to medium enterprises (SMEs) primarily voiced concerns about rising costs and inflation (40%), people-focused issues centre around workforce mental health (15%), according to research by Nucleus Commercial Finance.
The research was conducted in February 2023 among 500 senior decision-makers. One in 10 (10%) also cited the mental health of their senior team members, while a similar number were concerned about employees’ physical health (9%) and that of the senior team (7%). A further 8% cited ‘quiet quitting’, whereby employees disengage from the business, as a key challenge for the year ahead.
Despite these concerns, 21% of SMEs surveyed had taken no steps to address the threats they perceived to their businesses over the next year. Indeed, while 25% overall were concerned about mental health, with 11% stating that this was a top threat, only 7% provided mental health days to staff, and even fewer (4%) had relevant benefits in place.
Steph Parton-Corr, GB wellbeing lead for health and benefits at WTW, told Benefits Expert: “Looking after colleague health should be high on our list of priorities. Adequately prioritising employee wellbeing drives reduced absenteeism and presenteeism costs, and increases levels of engagement and productivity.
“Many workplaces are already doing a good job of monitoring and improving employee health. But there remains much scope for improvement.
“Our Global Benefits Attitudes Survey found almost a third of employees (31%) would like their employers to focus on supporting mental health management, through offering mental health days, stress and resilience management activities and access to a wider range of mental health professionals. While 30% of staff would like further support around maintaining physical health, through provision of health screenings and risk assessments, and more generous health care and dental plans.
“Additionally, more specific health issues such as men’s health, reproductive health or support for carers and neurodiverse employees, can greatly impact employee productivity, so it pays for employers to assist their employees on a more personal level.”
In order to address rising business costs, Nucleus Commercial Finance found that SMEs had primarily raised the prices of products or services (26%), while 12% had frozen staff wages. A further 12% were encouraging increased flexible working in order to make savings.
Chirag Shah, CEO and Founder of Nucleus Commercial Finance commented: “UK SMEs are looking aghast at the storm clouds overhead – fully aware of the challenges posed by the year ahead. While rising costs are typically top of mind, it is notable that we are seeing such heightened awareness of mental health and a recognition of the importance of people in building, sustaining, and growing a business.
“But addressing all these challenges requires a financial safety net – something that too few businesses are in a position to build. Some can be delayed or simply patched for the short-term. But, for those issues deemed business critical, it is imperative that finance providers are at hand. By being able to rapidly and accurately assess requests, and then deliver the appropriate financing, they can help ensure that SMEs are in a position to thrive when the sun finally comes out.”