By AXA PPP healthcare

Owners and employees of Britain’s small and medium sized firms have reason to be proud – they make up 99.9 per cent of the UK private sector’s businesses, employ nearly three-fifths of its workforce and account for 48 per cent of the turnover.* But, according to our new poll of SME employees, full-on pursuit of commercial success may be putting them at increased risk of ill health and burnout.**

Putting the business first?

Nearly half (47 per cent) of the 1100 employees we surveyed said that they regularly work four or more hours of overtime a week, with 29 per cent putting in seven or more extra hours a week. For over half of the people who regularly work overtime (52 per cent), the extra hours are unpaid.

Long working hours can often be embedded into SME culture. Our findings showed that a fifth (21 per cent) of respondents take fewer than 30 minutes for lunch, with 12 per cent ploughing on without stopping for a lunch break at all. And by putting the business first, 27 per cent have cancelled time with friends and family in the past three months due to working over and above their contracted hours.

Parents in particular can feel the pinch. For those with children living at home, 18 per cent have missed a child’s event such as a parents’ evening or school play in the past three months and, for those with younger children, over half (54 per cent) have continued to work after putting them to bed.

Healthy people, healthy business

“Small and medium sized business are the backbone of the economy – driving innovation, enterprise and growth,” says Glen Parkinson, SME Director at AXA PPP heatlhcare. “Their commitment is commendable yet our study shows that owners and bosses may be putting themselves and their employees at increased risk of burnout and ill health through protracted overwork.

“Most owners and bosses of small and medium sized firms recognise the link between health and wellbeing and productivity,” Parkinson continued, “and many are acting on the insight by providing benefits such as healthcare cover and access to counselling helplines to help employees deal with the pressures in their lives.
Getting the right support

Mental health remains a concern, however: 71 per cent of survey respondents who’d been diagnosed with a mental health condition such as stress, anxiety or depression said they wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking to people at work about it, highlighting the stigma associated with the condition. And 42 per cent of sufferers said their employer had failed to give them adequate support to deal with their condition.

“There is hope, however,” Parkinson adds, “and, as a leading provider of employee health support services, we know from experience how important the early intervention of experienced healthcare professionals can be in helping employees to deal with psychological issues, which, if neglected or delayed, can lead to lengthy spells of sickness absence.”

“A focus on wellbeing can help smaller and medium sized firms to thrive. Owners should prioritise their own health and the health of their employees as much as they prioritise their pursuit of commercial success,” he said.
“Work is best enjoyed in good health and, while that can’t be guaranteed, having the right tools in place to support wellbeing and a growing business is a great way to keep the Backbone of Britain strong.”

What can you and your business do?

Here are some helpful tips to promote wellbeing in your business:

1. Encourage employees to attend their medical appointments. By knowing it is okay to visit their doctor during working hours, problems can be dealt with in a timely fashion and lead to a faster recovery and return to work.

2. Foster a workplace culture that encourages employees to live healthy and active lives; highlight the health risks associated with poor diet and lack of exercise, and stress the importance of ‘recharging the batteries’ by taking healthy breaks during the working day.

3. Try to create an open and honest environment where people know they’re appreciated and respected, and aren’t frightened to discuss their concerns with colleagues and bosses.

4. Train line mangers to spot signs of stress, anxiety and depression, and put in place action plans to help affected employees – for example, see AXA PPP’s online resource Help manage stress in the workplace. Providing access to professional counselling helplines can be a big benefit to employees who are struggling to cope.

5. Stay up to date with resources to help manage workplace health and wellbeing – for example, government sites such Health for Work, the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives and Healthy Working Wales offer a wealth of information and guidance for employers. So too does AXA PPP healthcare’s Resources for small businesses.

*Business population estimates for the UK and regions 2013, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills

**Online survey of 1100 people working for small and medium sized firms (of up to 250 employees) throughout the UK undertaken in March 2014 by market researcher Redshift.