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Mental health concerns growing among SME workers

by maria

– A third (34%) of SMEs have been approached by workers with mental wellbeing concerns since  lockdown restrictions began easing in April 

Personal finance troubles were also prominent (27%), as were challenges surrounding  childcare and looking after elderly relatives (27%) and fears about job losses (24%) Some 17% of SMEs cited helping workers with their mental wellbeing as being a key concern  for their business, followed by helping them manage the long-term effects of the pandemic  on their personal finances (15%) 

Results from WorkLife’s Small Business Monitor show that a third (34%) of SMEs have been  approached by employees with mental wellbeing concerns since lockdown restrictions began easing  in April. This is up from 26% in the Spring study.

The employee benefits platform’s analysis reveals that, overall, 93% of firms have had workers come  to them with worries in recent months. After mental health concerns, troubles about personal  finances were prominent (27%), as were challenges surrounding childcare and caring for elderly  relatives (27%) and fears about job losses (24%).

As the UK moves through the recovery phase, it’s clear that returning to the company premises is also  a cause for concern for SME workers. A quarter (25%) of firms WorkLife engaged with said that staff  were worried about contracting COVID-19 by going to work, while 18% feared being asked to return  to the office. Interestingly, the same number (18%) have the opposing concern – that they will be  expected to work remotely permanently from now on.


Thankfully though, the wellbeing of employees is high on the agenda for small businesses. Over the  next 12 months, respondents cited supporting workers with the long-term impact of the pandemic  on their mental wellbeing (17%) and their personal finances (15%) as being key concerns for their  company, as well as appropriately rewarding employees (14%).

In particular, firms are recognising the potential risks that longer term remote working arrangements  pose to employees’ overall wellbeing. Almost three in 10 respondents (29%) said they were worried about the impact on employees’ mental health due to working from home over the long-term, while  21% were concerned about workers’ physical wellbeing, due to people not having the correct  workplace setup in place, for example.

WorkLife director Steve Bee says that these statistics highlight how, as we move through the coming  months, SMEs cannot afford to lose focus on employees, many of whom are entering yet another  fundamental period of transition.

He commented: “While there are signs that the worst may be over for some small businesses, there’s  sadly no quick fix for those workers who – having already been grappling with the effects of prolonged  job insecurity and a lingering fear of contracting COVID-19 – are now undergoing yet another phase  of adjustment.

“The clear mental and financial strain that comes through in our research is concerning and could  have a corrosive effect on employees’ overall wellbeing if left unaddressed. So while it’s encouraging  to see that the main focus areas for SMEs is around the welfare of staff, it’s vital that firms’ good  intentions translate into concrete action as we progress further through this period of reopening.

“Employers who have not already done so simply must be engaging with employees – be it on a  personal basis or via HR professionals – to assess people’s concerns and where they would benefit  from more support or flexibility. A happy and productive workforce is a key pillar to any successful  company, but it’s important to remember that for many people, the workplace is where they are  going to be able to access the support they really need right now.”

WorkLife’s Small Business Monitor is based on research carried out by 3Gem among 750 senior  financial and HR decision makers in UK SME companies with 5 – 250 employees. Fieldwork for the  Summer report took place 15-19 July 2021 and 14-22 March 2021 for Spring.


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