By Linda Levesque, Vice President of HR Benefits at Unum

Creating the right working environment and ensuring the wellbeing of staff is crucial for businesses to thrive. For SMEs especially, people are the most valued and irreplaceable assets. Staff turnover and sickness absence also has a greater impact on SMEs, so ensuring staff are cared for is a crucial means of maintaining a happy and productive workforce. Although employee wellbeing is now higher up on the agenda than it has been in previous years, are companies doing enough to demonstrate to their employees they care about their wellbeing?

According to a recent study by Income Protection specialist Unum and Oxford Economics, a third of workers felt they were either only ‘adequately or poorly’ cared for by their employer [1]. What’s more, almost a third (33%) of people working for SMEs said they would consider leaving their job if they didn’t feel cared for by their employer, highlighting the impact wellbeing strategies have on loyalty.

As job vacancies are now on the rise, power has shifted from employer to employee. Employees have greater freedom when looking to change jobs, and so companies need to address and adapt their wellbeing initiatives to appeal to today’s workforce to retain and recruit the best talent. To help make this objective a reality Unum has created a Blueprint guide to being a caring company, designed to provide organisations around the country with the necessary means to get up to speed with what their staff will expect from them.

The Blueprint advises that businesses focus on the following to keep workers happy and productive.

Address wellbeing at leadership level

Before anything about a company’s policy is changed, health and wellness must become a key consideration for a company’s leadership. Good leaders create a positive company culture. The heads of small businesses should be aware of the importance and financial impact of retaining staff (for example, replacing a staff member who earns over £25,000 and above equates to £30,614) [2] and communicating their overarching company wellbeing strategy to employees at all levels. Giving employees the opportunity to feed back on how they feel is equally important. If senior members of staff demonstrate concern around wellbeing, they will create a greater level of trust and respect throughout the business, impacting positively on motivation.

Create a culture of openness

The onus is now on HR professionals and line managers to communicate health and wellbeing initiatives to staff in order to make them aware of how the company will take care of them. Unum’s research showed that 70% of people said they’d value having a good relationship with their line manager just as much as other benefits like a good salary and bonus [3]. Line managers should therefore look to ensure employees are kept happy by fostering a culture of two-way communication to encourage discussion of any concerns before problems can develop.

Implement effective employee benefits

Actually implementing staff benefits to protect staff and make them feel financially secure is integrally linked with higher staff motivation levels. Two thirds of employers haven’t reviewed their benefits package in three years or more, yet demographic, economic and social changes mean that employee needs and priorities have changed significantly over that time — for instance, we now have an ageing workforce. It is therefore important to evaluate what benefits older workers might value most. Softer perks like gym memberships and financial bonuses can offer a useful and cost effective way to motivate and engage employees, but this must also be underpinned by more robust financial benefits like Income Protection, which can provide financial support if an employee is off sick for a long period of time. What’s more, taking a proactive approach to offering a comprehensive employee benefits package can reduce sickness absence levels and staff turnover and hence save businesses money in the long term.

The rewards for addressing wellbeing in the workplace are obvious. Failing to be a caring employer is now a serious business risk as organisations will fall behind the curve and be unable to differentiate themselves from the competition in the battle for talent. Not only can being a caring company impact on employee happiness and productive output, it also makes sense financially. Retaining and motivating the best talent can be a huge differentiator for SMEs, providing competitive advantage and often making the difference between a good business and a great business. It is therefore crucial to put action behind words and follow through with tangible actions to become a company that cares.

To view more tips on how to be a company that cares, visit the Blueprint guide at Unum

[1] The Wellbeing Lag, by Unum and ICM Research 2014
[2] The Cost of Brain Drain, by Unum and Oxford Economics, 2014
[3] The Wellbeing Lag, by Unum and ICM Research, 2014