Celebrating the people behind British small businesses

How to stay healthy in the workplace: looking after your employees

As fun as being a Machiavellian, slave-driving boss may seem, it’s in your best interests as a small business owner to take into account the health and wellbeing of your employees in the workplace. Not only does your role come with a duty of care, but every business, from huge corporations to the smallest of small enterprises, can benefit from a happy, healthy workforce. Any business will almost immediately see the benefits of employees that are not only engaged in their work, but genuinely passionate about their role within your company.

It’s about more than just being a cool boss, too. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that 22.7 million days were lost to work-related ill health in 2011/2012, most of which were related to stress, depression or anxiety. You might not be able to stop flu doing the rounds, but there are a number of things you can do to drastically reduce the number of days off your workers take, as well as tackling instances of ‘Presentee-ism’- when an employee is present but hasn’t got their mind fully on the job.

A workforce that is only present half the time, both physically and mentally, leads to a severe drop in the quality of work, the atmosphere of your office, and, ultimately, the future of your business.

Health and Well-Being

But what is ‘health and well-being in the work place’? A Department for Work and Pensions report from 2011 divides combative measures into five sub-sectors:

  •  Health and well being initiatives and support
  • Flexible working policies
  • Stress management standards
  • Attendance management
  • Relationships at work and work culture 

There are plenty of ways you can influence these elements of your employee’s work-lives, but first, let’s take a look at some companies who are already going all out!

The Outside View

Business analytics company The Outside View focus on hard data to improve their clients’ performance and help their businesses reach their potential. Based around the idea of “if we are what we measure, why not measure what we want to become?” the Outside View is hoping to prove that analysing data can help people and businesses improve exponentially. They are testing this theory on themselves in an unprecedented experiment, ‘Health, Wealth and Happiness’, taking the data of everyday life and analysing it to see where improvements could be made.

FreeAgent, Edinburgh

Ed, Olly and Roan, co-founders of this online accountancy system for freelancers and small businesses, set out to create the kind of workplace environment they had always wanted to work in. Rather than a bland corporate office, FreeAgent staff can take their work to the bar area or brainstorm on the ‘idea paint’ walls. Unlike many other businesses within the financial services sector, there is no dress code and staff are invited to help themselves to free drinks, fruit and fresh bread throughout the day. They even get weekly, catered team lunches (paid for by the company), and have several options for flexible working.

CTO Olly puts the company’s success down to having such a strong, happy team. “We’ve built an environment where people actually want to share their talents, support each other and make FreeAgent the best cloud accounting system for small businesses and freelancers worldwide,” he says. What more could you ask for?

Quicksilva, Wiltshire.

Healthcare software provider Quicksilva certainly knows the benefits of allowing its employees to keep their faithful friends close; dog kennels are provided at the 19th century potting shed from which it runs. But employee perks don’t stop there. Along with a library, table tennis, and a vegetable allotment, staff are treated in the summer months to a Wi-Fi enabled ‘meeting yurt’, team BBQs, and even a crazy golf course.

The idea, of course, is that staff not only have space to relax away from their desks, reducing stress and increasing productivity, but a place to socialise and collaborate, resulting in a really strong team. Managing director Gayna Hart believes that “There are many larger companies that offer perks for their staff because they have the space and budget, but that shouldn’t put off smaller companies from improving the workplace and giving additional benefits to their staff. By providing perks smaller companies can improve motivation and loyalty by offering a home away from home.”

And she’s right! You don’t even have to go to the lengths these guys have to create a fantastic workplace for your employees. We’ve put together a list of some small, cheap changes that could make a massive difference!

Health and well-being initiatives and support 

  • Pets in work – if you have the capacity, pets in the workplace can reduce the stress of pet owners and non-pet owners alike. Online recruitment specialist Reed.co.uk recently did a survey on the idea of pets in the workplace, and the results were surprising! Over 70% of those allowed to bring a pet to the workplace have taken their pooch, but the survey unearthed instances of parrots, snakes, and even a horse! Most people claimed to want to keep their pet with them to reduce the animal’s stress and worry of being left at home, but almost half said they would work better with their pet by their side. Over a quarter said they would even consider a lower-paid job if it meant bringing their pet to work! Lower-paid, happier employees? Living the dream!Food, drinks and snacks – from a subsidised, healthy canteen to a simple bowl of fresh fruit, there are loads of ways to encourage your staff to eat well regularly that will make a massive difference to both concentration and overall health.
  • Walk-to-Work or cycle-to-work schemes – even just providing a safe space to lock up bikes can encourage people to cycle instead of drive! 

Flexible working policies

  • Flexible working hours – allowing people to come in earlier or later and finish earlier or later can make a huge difference to employees with families or caring commitments.
  • Work-from-home – making sure you have systems in place that allow your staff to work remotely will keep your productivity flowing even when something gets in the way.
  • Work-life balance – encouraging a good work-life balance will keep employees refreshed and happy. 

Stress Management Standards

  • Support/advice service – is there is someone in the company that can be in charge of pastoral care? Even letting your employees know your door is always open for a chat can make the world of difference.
  • Relaxation area – having a section of the office, away from desks or main working area, in which employees can take breaks and a minute to relax, will allow them to take a step back from their stress and assess the problems rationally.
  • Courses – employee professional development is one of your responsibilities as an employer. Encouraging your staff to take relevant courses will improve their ability to manage, reducing their stress levels as they feel more capable. 

Attendance Management

  • Job adjustments – being flexible about job roles, particularly after a period of illness, can encourage people to ease back into full capacity and increase staff retention.
  • Office environment – you might not be ready to invest in a yurt just yet, but having a pleasant, open office environment that people enjoy being in can go a long way to managing attendance. Ergonomic work stations and as much natural light as possible will encourage people to enjoy coming in to work. 

Relationships with colleagues, and work culture 

  • Company socials – encouraging different members of your team to interact not only improves the atmosphere in your office but creates a close knit team, like the one at Quicksilva, which works hard for each other and for you.
  • Small perks – even if it is just buying a box of cupcakes every once in a while to say thank you for their hard work, little shows of appreciation and rewards can make a big difference to how people feel about you and about the company.