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Happy healthy workplace – without breaking the bank

Marianna Roach

SMEs are uniquely positioned to listen closely to their employees’ needs and offer tailor-made benefits. Implementing a wellbeing benefits programme doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Contributor Marianna Roach, Organisational Development Consultant – TopLine Comms.

Many SMEs believe they can’t afford to invest in employee wellbeing benefits. Bigger businesses do have bigger resources, but the encouraging truth is, a successful employee wellbeing programme doesn’t actually require a large budget. Smaller companies are typically more agile than their larger peers. Unconstrained by complicated corporate hierarchies, SMEs can pay closer attention to their employees’ needs with far faster results. It’s much easier to introduce new benefits to a small team that are in line with what people want. This in turn helps build and maintain an authentic company culture; one that is guided by employees rather than prescribed to them. 

I currently work for an SME as an Organisational Development Consultant. Before that I spent years working for larger companies. This has given me a first-hand account of how companies of different sizes differ in their approach to employee wellbeing benefits – and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. In my experience it is usually easier to design, improve and maintain wellbeing in smaller organisations that can include their employees in the process. The SMEs that get this right are the ones that approach employee wellbeing as more than a box-ticking exercise. Here are some ways in which you can replicate their successes.  

Get the whole team involved
Asking your employees to submit suggestions for how to build a better workplace is a great start. But once you have their feedback, you need to put the information to use as quickly as possible – otherwise all of your efforts will fall flat. A great way to sustain momentum is to include your employees in each step of the process. You could create a wellbeing committee that oversees the implementation of various initiatives like social activities and benefits.  

Approaching a forum of peers is often far less intimidating than approaching one’s manager. A committee of colleagues can therefore act as a safe space for junior and senior employees to voice their opinion and work towards a consensus. The advantage of a small company is that quieter employees aren’t easily muffled by more assertive personalities. 

Of course, allowing staff to lead certain aspects of the employee wellbeing programme does not mean managers can step back and neglect their duties in areas such as training, onboarding and personal development. Good line managers will always keep track of their direct reports and check in with regular conversations.  

Don’t just tick boxes – tailor benefits
Employee wellbeing is not something that can be ticked off a to-do list. It’s an ongoing exercise that needs to be reviewed and adjusted regularly in line with employee needs. This means businesses need to be proactive and responsive so that as people and their interests change, employee wellbeing benefits stay relevant. 

At TopLine, for example, our team is small but diverse. Some of our employees are new graduates in their first ever office jobs while others have young families and clear career ambitions. While good plentiful coffee and a free round of drinks on Fridays are nice perks, they are not the benefits that inspire long-term loyalty. 

To create a benefits package that appeals to everyone, we ran focus groups with current team members as well as anonymous surveys to gather information. We then devised our wellbeing programme accordingly. Some existing benefits such as annual wellbeing bonuses, fresh fruit every day, and early finishes on the last Friday of the month were highly valued and so these we kept. We formalised other, more casual perks, such as working from home and a fitness scheme, as well as introduced new ones such as a health cash plan and enhanced pension contributions.

Measure the return
Small businesses may not have unlimited budgets, but they definitely have an advantage over big businesses in that they can move faster and keep pace with their employees’ priorities. Of course, there is no sense in removing the benefits that work – nor adding new ones unnecessarily as this will just increase costs with minimal positive impact. 

Our budget was tight, but we managed to introduce a refreshed wellbeing package for approximately £20,000 – which worked out to less than the estimated cost of replacing one employee. In terms of calculating a return on investment, the new programme was projected to extend employee tenure by about six months, increase employee engagement score by 5-10 percent, and boost Net Promoter Score by 10 percent. A few months after introducing the changes, we have already seen average tenure increase by 24 weeks, three percentage points improvement in our employee engagement score and 15 percentage points in our employee satisfaction score, and 39 percent increase in our Net Promoter Score result.  

Regular surveys show that our team is happy with the new employee benefits programme. From the management team’s perspective, we’ve seen improved collaboration and increased productivity. There is no doubt that it pays to design a unique benefits package that caters to the specific people who work for and with you. Smaller companies can really take advantage of working together for the benefit of all. 

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