Employee health & well-being in small business

In Australia a small business is defined, at least under the government’s Fair Work Act, as an enterprise that employs up to 15 staff. However, the majority of small businesses seem to employ between one to four staff (sometimes referred to as a micro-business).

If you run a business with a small team, then you know that having just one employee absent for a single day will create some disruption to your operation. Particularly when you receive late notice, such as a phone call just before their shift commences

Staff absence is quite often of course the result of genuine illness, although sometimes it can reflect a morale problem – and other times it can be because of family or other circumstances (such as a sick child that needs to be minded).
When you run a small business, the health and well-being of your staff is not something that you can afford to ignore – and therefore any ideas that can help to reduce or prevent absenteeism are worth considering.

I recently met with Tracy Busse, who runs a small HR consulting business in Melbourne called Waveform Consulting, that offer services in this area of staff health and well-being. Here’s what she had to say in response to some basic questions……
Tracy, what is your experience with employee Health and Well-being?

I have administered OH&S and my passion was managing a preventative health and well-being program over many years delivering benefits to 600 staff. I combine this passion with my organisational psychology/coaching background and life experiences to offer coaching, seminars, webinars and workshops in the health and well-being arena. My particular area of interest is building emotional resilience, healthy thinking and confidence: a mindset for success before, during and after life and career transitions:

Do you think small business can provide a healthy environment for staff?
Most definitely! I am sure that many already do and there is so much more that can be done at the workplace. It makes business sense because happy, healthy staff are productive and effective. As a small business owner you want everyone to be at their best.

What can small business do on a shoestring budget?
I have operated in workplace environments with a substantial budget but also where there is no budget for health and well-being. As a small business owner you can deliver benefits without cost or with minimal cost or you can also pass on cost or partial to employees (user pays basis).

I have so many ideas around this…….where to start? If you did nothing other than to make health and well-being a regular feature at team meetings or informal chats then that is a great start.
A successful approach that I have seen is to start with your team and ask them what are the key risks in their workplace – brainstorm and list them all, consider physical safety risks as well as risk to their health and well-being e.g. trips and falls, security for shift/late night workers, difficult / aggressive customers, sun exposure for outdoor staff, sitting/standing for long periods, manual handling, mental health issues such as depression.

Then when you have all the risks identified and understood, you need to prioritise. Come up with, say the 5 top risks in your workplace/s and develop a program around those needs. For example, if staff feel vulnerable when walking to their car after a late night roster, you might consider getting someone in to run a 1 to 2 hour self-defence course for interested staff. Your solutions could involve making preventive information readily available in the workplace - such as posters, or highlighting relevant websites.
You can either run the program yourself or with a larger team in your business, you might ask staff to work in pairs to run various elements, which can also have team building benefits too. Try to be as creative as possible and use themes to introduce humour, keep the programme light, fun and enjoyable.

What are some ways that health and well-being can be fostered within a small business workplace?
Over the years, I’ve seen small business owners do a lot of different things, including for example ….

-      yoga or exercise classes
-      having a weekly fruit bowl
-      organising a lunchtime walking group
-      running a quit smoking program, weight loss program,
-      getting some specialist ergonomic advice to help with better workplace design (this could be as simple as improved lighting, or seating that offers staff better back support, or computer screen covers that reduce eye strain)
-      promoting regular health and medical checks (for example for high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.), including offering flu injections leading up to winter
Many larger organisations offer an employee assistance program which usually provides free access to psychologists. Did you know that your local GP can provide a mental health treatment plan which gives access to up to 10 sessions per year with a clinical psychologist and a range of health professionals?  So people suffering for example from depression or extreme relationship stresses can benefit from expert assistance.
Many charities and not for profits supply posters and online resources  e.g. Beyond Blue, Heart Foundation, Cancer Council. In many cases they will send someone to talk on a particular topic – if you are too small to offer this, then why not ask other businesses to join in or run it through a local business network.

Another option is to speak to your work cover insurer, private medical insurer or super fund as they sometimes offer on-line resources on workplace health.
Are there risks associated with placing a focus on workplace health?

The risk of doing nothing about staff health is that your business could subsequently suffer through unplanned staff absenteeism, as well as the possibility of higher insurance costs in the future.
However, there can also be risks associated with doing something. The common fear is that you will open up a can of worms  However, if there are staff well-being issues in your workplace then you would have to deal with them at some point anyway - so you may as well face up to them earlier instead of later.

There is also a fear around confidentiality of information and liability. You don’t need to see or keep any medical records - that is the role of a health practitioner. If you do have knowledge of a condition or health situation you are liable to take reasonable precautions/preventative actions to avoid further risk or aggravation to the injury.
If you are promoting resources such as those from Beyond Blue – you can have a disclaimer stating that it is purely for information purposes, you are not recommending or accepting liability for the service. You are liable for staff if they are participating in a work related event, even if it is outside work hours, so if you use an outside provider make sure that they have insurance.

Another concern you might have is that you won’t have sufficient time to do this and it will detract from running your business. But you don’t have to do it all – get other people involved. You might just be giving someone else the opportunity they need. You also don’t need to do lots of big things, sometimes just a small effort on a regular basis might be enough – and it shows your staff that you care about them
In closing, Tracy says "If your business relies on healthy happy staff - then their health and well-being is integral to your business, so view this as an investment rather than a cost"

Related article "How to motivate staff"

About the author

Brian Carroll is the founder of a corporate training and leadership development company, Performance Development, based in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist, experienced management coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people achieve their full potential

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