How businesses and charities can support employee wellbeing in uncertain times

A businessman shaking a female employee's hand.

In this article, we look at the various ways employers can support the wellbeing of their staff during uncertain economic periods, from enhancing employee benefits to promoting physical exercise.

Ways of supporting employee wellbeing in uncertain times, which we will cover in more depth below, include:

• Introduce an employee wellbeing strategy (if you don’t already have one). Physical, mental, and financial health and wellbeing.
    o Occupational health assessments
    o Leverage the skills of your business network to promote financial wellbeing education. Invite finance experts you know (mortgage broker, independent financial adviser) into your company, if you feel they can genuinely provide help to your staff.
• Clearly signpost as much help and advice as possible to your staff via your internal communication channels.
• Catch up with your staff regularly.
    o Informal 1:1 chats.
    o Social events.
• Offer flexible working to your staff.
• Enhance your employee benefits.
• Provide one-off bonuses (if you can afford to).

According to a study by Cezanne HR, almost 90% of senior business leaders believe their business will be negatively affected by the recession. This can result in falling sales, freezing recruitment and overtime pay and bonuses and pay rises. All of which can put a huge strain on employees and can adversely affect their mental and financial wellbeing.

As a small business owner or small charitable organisation, you might not have the luxury of an in-house HR department, so the responsibility for ensuring your employees’ wellbeing is down to you.

Some small business owners may wonder why they should they care. This would be a narrow-minded viewpoint. As a business leader, your staff are your most important resource. If you look after your staff, they will look after your customers and your business.

In this article, we look at what small business and charities can do to support their staff during uncertain economic periods, which in-turn will help support their own organisation to thrive.

Introduce an employee wellbeing programme

What better way to support your employees and show you care than to develop an employee wellbeing programme?

By running ongoing campaigns in your business that focus on three core areas of physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing and financial wellbeing, you can ensure these topics remain front of mind, which can show you care about your staff whilst reducing some of the stigma that might be involved with each of these sensitive issues.

Physical wellbeing:

Offer occupational health assessments

Whilst offering an occupational health assessment might not help with the cost of living, it can help to make the working environment more comfortable for your staff.

From identifying potential physical and mental health hazards such as awkward or cramped working conditions, excessive workloads, discrimination and inequality, and feeling undervalued, to making reasonable adjustments to support the individual needs of your employees, occupational health should be an integral part of your business.

Actively promote exercise

A prime example of how a company can easily promote better physical health for its employees is via a cycle to work scheme. Whilst this might not be an option for those who commute form far away, for local workers it can be a great way to keep fit and save money.

Subsidised gym memberships are another great way of providing a fantastic health benefit to your staff whilst also helping them to save money.

Some employers mix physical health with their employee socials via walks or hikes in the countryside, 5-a-side football, and other bonding events such as away days and in-house running clubs.

Mental wellbeing:

Occupational health assessments and movement

As mentioned in the ‘Physical’ paragraph, an occupational health assessment can also help staff who might be struggling mentally in the workplace. Exercise can really help with self-esteem and improve how people feel.

Train managers to promote health and wellbeing

It’s important to find out how your employees are feeling about themselves, their personal lives and how they feel about the workplace. Training your managers to promote health and wellbeing will help. Listening to your staff and what they need will help you with ideas for how to resolve some issues and create a better workplace culture in the long-term.

It is important that you create an ‘open door’ trusted culture where employees can feel they are able to open-up about issues that are troubling them. To achieve this, you will need to educate your staff via your internal communication channels, you’ll also need to talk to them as individuals on a confidential basis.

In the study by Cezanne HR, 77% of senior leaders and managers who were questioned believed that line manages should prioritise supporting employee morale during an economic downturn.

The easiest way to make someone feel better is to genuinely thank them for their hard work. Don’t wait for quarterly meetings or specific business events to thank your employees for their hard work. If a member of staff has gone the extra mile, thank them, make them feel appreciated.

Offer paid volunteering days

Another great way to help with potential mental health in the workplace issues can be to offer paid volunteering days to your staff. Initiatives such as this can make people feel good about themselves by giving back to the community whilst offering them an opportunity two or three days a year to experience a change of scenery from the workplace. It can also provide good PR for your organisation whilst helping to strengthen your organisation’s links with the local community.

Remember, the sooner an employer becomes aware of a mental health problem, the sooner they can provide help and support.

Financial wellbeing:

Promote financial education

Financial wellbeing and education about how to manage finances isn’t a subject that is taught in schools and colleges. As a result, many people grow into their working lives unable to manage their finances well enough to cover their primary monthly outgoings (rent, mortgage, insurances, utilities, food) as well struggling to create a savings habit.

One way to offer financial help is to leverage the skills of your business network to promote financial education. By invite finance experts you know and trust (e.g. mortgage broker, independent financial adviser) into your company to speak with your staff you offer the opportunity for staff members to book confidential appointments to potentially access financial advice and assistance.

Two fantastic organisations that can help are:

• Mind charity has produced a helpful pdf ‘Money and mental health’ that you can download and read.

• There is also a handy webpage on the Citizens Advice website that explains how you can manage your gas and electricity bills.

Catch up with your staff regularly

As an employer or senior manager, you don’t want to be accused of micro-management, but you will want to show your staff that you genuinely care about them.

Informal 1:1 chats

1:1 meetings with line managers can be stressful for staff. Many employees view 1:1’s as onerous tick box exercises and some even feel they are being micro-managed by them. This is your chance to change that stigma surrounding 1:1’s and to provide genuine support.

Each 1:1 will require a great deal of empathy and as a line manager you must display great listening skills. Remember, you are not there to provide all the answers, but by chatting with your staff you can help to allay some of their fears – perhaps surrounding their job security – while also forming a greater awareness of your staff’s morale.

This vital information can help you when it comes to making decisions regarding workloads and deadlines, overtime pay, company-funded socials, and bonuses.

Social events

A happy workforce is a productive workforce. If you can garner a feeling of contentment and a strong team ethic in your organisation, then you will reap the benefits of increased productivity, potentially increased sales, and a more pleasant atmosphere for everyone to enjoy working in. Regular social events can help with this.

It might take a bit of time and patience at the outset, as not everyone will be able to attend every event if they are outside of working hours. It’s important not to inadvertently create division, you’re looking to create harmony. If you run some social events during your work hours, then those who have personal commitments outside of work will feel included.

You might even wish to ask some staff members if they would like to organise your socials. Some of which could be funded by your organisation.

Signpost as much help and advice as possible

It’s important to clearly signpost to your staff where they can get free, confidential financial help and advice if they need it.

There are many options available for those who might need some independent advice, whether it be for advice about managing finance or utility bills, or personal health and wellbeing guidance to help them with the emotional side of a stressful situation.

If you have the resources available to you, then introducing an employee assistance programme can help via confidential information, advice, and even counselling if it is required. Many health insurance providers offer this type of service in their policy options.

See the list of helpful website links at the foot of this article.

Offer flexible working to your staff

Offering flexible working arrangements to your employees can help reduce expenses such as commute costs and childcare fees.

Flexibility doesn’t always mean working from home. You could offer different work hours to the typical 9am to 5pm working day. Off-peak hours can mean cheaper commute costs on public transport and even cheaper parking for those employees who drive to work.

It can also mean a working parent can pick up their children from, school, rather having to pay for their children to attend an after-school club for a couple of hours.

If your staff can work from home, this can significantly reduce their outgoings by reducing both their childcare and commuting costs.

Enhance your employee benefits

Employees look for what benefits are offered by prospective employers when they are searching for employment. Some benefits are given to employees, while others are offered as part of a salary sacrifice scheme, which typically sees benefits offered at reduced rate.

Employee benefits vary depending on the size of the employer and even depending on the business sector it operates in. It’s important to ensure your employees are fully aware of what cost saving benefits you offer them. These can include childcare vouchers, employee discounts, subsidised gym memberships, the Government backed Cycle to Work scheme, roadside breakdown and recovery assistance, to name just a few popular examples.

Take a look at the benefits you offer to your employees. Could they be enhanced in any way?

Provide one-off staff bonuses

Not all organisations can afford to do this, but if you can, then offering a one-off bonus to your staff could solve some of their immediate money worries whilst also endearing them even more to your company. Helping to relieve your staff of person financial stress could result in greater focus on their roles at work and increased productivity as a result.

Useful links to potential help

The following list is not exhaustive but provides a flavour of some of the free and impartial help that is available online.

Money Helper - The Government's website that offers free, confidential and independent money and debt advice - https://www.moneyhelper.org.uk/en

Citizens Advice - National charity and network of local charities offer confidential advice online, over the phone, and in person, for free - https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/

Advice Hub - Confidential advice online, over the phone, and in person, for free on matters that are important, such as housing, benefits and debt advice - https://advicehub.uk/

Mind - Charity that provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem - https://www.mind.org.uk/

Gov.uk Cycle to work scheme - Explaining the cycle to work scheme for employers - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cycle-to-work-scheme-implementation-guidance

ACAS - Free, impartial advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice for employers and employees - https://www.acas.org.uk/

You can find more helpful articles covering how businesses and individuals can thrive during an economic downturn in our Cost-of-living Hub.

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