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The importance of employee wellbeing strategy for SMEs 

Sinead Murphy Sep 20, 2022 9:29:12 AM


When it comes to employee mental health, many SME leaders mistakenly believe that wellbeing strategies are confined to large corporations. Surely the only organisations that can afford such strategies are big conglomerates with plenty of cash to spare, right?  

The reality is that employee wellbeing is key to achieving business growth – regardless of the size of your business. Likely spurred on by the negative impact of the pandemic (and exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis), the financial case for maintaining employee wellbeing is being recognised now more than ever.  

According to Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees admit to feeling disengaged at work. Staff who harbour these feelings are less likely to stay on board, so issues with retention and replacing top talent will likely follow.  

A survey conducted by Corporate Wellness Magazine paints a similarly bleak picture for employee mental health. When asked how they would rank their mental wellbeing, nearly a third of the 1,000 participants said that their mental health has declined over the past year. A staggering 84% have also experienced at least one mental health challenge during the same timeframe.  

With such stark figures highlighting the pressing need for strong wellbeing strategies, it may come as a surprise that 82% of SME employers do not have a health and wellbeing strategy in place. But what exactly is a wellbeing strategy, and what are the risks of not having one?  

Quite simply, a wellbeing strategy is a plan of action built to improve the health and happiness of a workforce. This strategy should not only have clearly defined goals, but should also be entwined with a wider employee benefit offering to ensure the complete mental, physical and financial wellness of your people.   


Considering the Risks  

While an effective wellbeing strategy has the power to reduce employee stress, and therefore reduce absenteeism and the associated costs that come with it, an ineffective (or non-existent) wellbeing strategy comes with a host of risks for your business. These risks include:  

Absenteeism: Stress, anxiety and burnout among your workforce can contribute to spikes in absenteeism, and absenteeism costs your business money. Acutec reports that “In the last year, absenteeism cost the UK economy £18 billion. Reports predict that this cost will increase to £21 billion in 2020, and £26 billion in 2030.”  

Retention and recruitment: If left unaddressed, the issues that affect absenteeism can lead to further, more costly, issues with retaining and recruiting talent. UK SMEs are currently spending an average of £12,000 to replace a worker, so it’s worth asking yourself whether your organisation can afford to take such a hit every time a worker becomes disengaged.  

Poor employee physical health: It’s not just mental health that affects the performance of your workforce. The Covid-19 pandemic has radicalised our ways of working and many employees now find themselves in hybrid or fully-remote roles. While some may thrive in this new landscape, others will feel lonely, isolated and disconnected from their teams, which inevitably impacts engagement and overall performance. In fact, a study by Nuffield Health found that 80% of employees believe remote work has negatively affected their mental health.  


Creating Your Strategy  

Now that we’ve identified the need for a wellbeing strategy, let’s take a look at the steps you should take to develop a proactive approach and plan for implementing your own:  

  1. Lead by example and address the specific risks to your own organisation  
  1. Focus on the key challenges to your business. For instance,  if the main goal is reduce absenteeism, you should be focusing on implementing plans that safeguard mental health and boost engagement  
  1. Align and integrate your wellbeing strategy with your overall business strategy  
  1. Encourage a positive culture for wellbeing where employees feel comfortable sharing their mental health concerns  
  1. Consider financial education as part of your wellbeing strategy and offer practical support through salary sacrifice schemes, employee discounts and Lifestyle Savings   
  1. Protect your employee retention levels with preventative care options such as a dedicated Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), offering 24/7 telephone support and range of self-help resources for your staff    
  1. Enlist wellbeing champions who can liaise with and advocate for your wider workforce  


When creating your wellbeing strategy, it’s important to engage with your people at every stage to understand their specific wellbeing needs and ensure that the strategy is fit for purpose. Employees can provide key insight and direction via anonymous surveys which can help shape and define your strategy. Once you have your plan in place, it will act as benchmark for future planning and raising standards in employee wellbeing within your organisation.  



Launching Your Strategy 

So, you’ve got your plan of action – now it’s time to launch your strategy! To do this, you will need to:  


  • Consider how your strategy and the support you’re providing will be branded. This should be uplifting and consistent, but should also specify if the wellbeing solution is being facilitated by an external provider. This may help to reassure your people that they can use the service confidentially and that no information will be relayed to management.  


  • Build a Wellness Calendar with key awareness days and work with your wellbeing champions to arrange ways to recognise and celebrate these days. For example, you might want to create opportunities for your people to practice mindfulness, meditation and yoga during Stress Awareness Month, or encourage open conversations and experience sharing in recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day.  


  • Enlist line managers as role models and arm them with the relevant training and information to signpost employers to further assistance. You should also ensure that your line mangers are playing an active role in keeping your people engaged with their wellbeing provision through regular communication and information sharing.   


  • Collect regular feedback from your teams to determine how accessible, impactful and ultimately how successful you wellbeing strategy is. You can do this via employee engagement or pulse surveys, or with a simple suggestion box in a communal area.  

While it’s clear that SME leaders should be actively investing in the wellbeing of their workforces, we understand that this might be a fairly daunting task to undertake. That’s why it’s important to seek advice, guidance and implementation from an expert wellbeing benefit provider who can offer holistic support for the mental, physical and financial wellness of your people.  

A trustworthy provider should:  

  • Consider and cover all aspects of employee wellbeing, not just mental wellbeing  
  • Support you to set up and maintain your wellbeing provision  
  • Provide branded collateral to spread awareness and encourage engagement  
  • Provide regular insights and reports around uptake, engagement and tangible results  


If you’re an SME leader in need of wellbeing support for your workforce, contact the Vivup team today. From day to day challenges at home to mounting pressures in the workplace, our EAP offers differing levels of support to employees, including a 24/7/365 telephone helpline, face to face counselling, online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) workbooks and additional support and training services for your management teams.  



Dismal Employee Engagement Is a Sign of Global Mismanagement (   

The 2022 State of Workforce Mental Health ( 

Four-fifths of SME employers do not have a health and wellbeing strategy – Employee Benefits 

How much is absenteeism costing your business? | ACUTEC  

Average Employee Replacement Cost is £12,000 for SMEs | Accounts and Legal  

Mental health impact of remote working | Nuffield Health