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Small business is largely overlooked when it comes to workplace wellness. Given that small business comprises over 96% of all businesses in Australia that is a lot of people who don’t have access to, & subsequent benefit from such interventions. 1

So what are some of the potential barriers & challenges for small business to embrace wellness? Before we delve into this, let’s start with some facts about small business in Australia.

The Facts

Small businesses, as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, are those with less than 20 employees.In Australia, small business:

·         provides employment for almost 4.8 million people, accounting for around 48 per cent of private sector employment;2

·         has owners which typically working long hours, with 24% working 51+ hours per week;3

·         are less likely to offer wellness programs for their employees.4

The Challenges & Advantages

As a small business owner or manager, you’ve probably seen the studies & you know wellness works.  But frankly, with an already overextended budget & staff, a long to-do list & lack of in-house expertise you may have tuned out. Or you’re simply not convinced it’s viable for your business.

You’re not alone.  Small businesses across Australia are facing this same challenge.  They can’t afford a big wellness strategy, & don’t have time to piece it together themselves.  Affordable wellness solutions for small businesses are hard to find.

But don’t despair! You can still reap the benefits of a wellness strategy without a ‘big end of town’ budget. You may not have a state-of-the-art onsite gymnasium or café serving fancy salads like some of the large organisations that attract the media spotlight. However, your small business has several advantages for delivering a cost-effective wellness strategy which will outweigh the challenges.

Typically smaller businesses are less bureaucratic which means decision making & change can happen more quickly & communication is enhanced. This leads to higher levels of program engagement (typically 90-100% compared to 30-40% in larger organisations) & a greater ability to build a supportive wellness culture.

Plus, in my experience working with small business owners they tend to care more about their employees. Given that family businesses account for 70% of all businesses in Australia,6 a large percentage of which are small businesses, owners often see their employees as extended family members. They look out for each other & issues or problems are more difficult to hide.

What does this mean for your business? With these advantages, & a little creativity, an affordable & simple workplace wellness strategy will be easier to implement than you think. Not only will it lead to more healthy & engaged employees, but it will boost your bottom line.

Not convinced?

Consider this – what’s the cost of doing nothing? The conundrum for small business is that compared to big business, any employee health or wellness issues will be amplified ten-fold. The smaller the business, the greater the impact. A couple of typical scenarios I’ve observed come to mind:

Two of the company’s eight employees have gone down with a bad case of the flu – that’s 25% of the workforce. A significant hit to the company’s productivity.

John’s lack of physical conditioning & poor core stability has contributed to his manual handling injury which has subsequently bumped up the company’s workers compensation costs.

Jennifer has been taking an increasing amount of sick days & she appears withdrawn at work. The business owner suspects she may have an underlying mental health condition but doesn’t feel confident to broach the matter with her.

Such examples not only lead to potential lost revenue, lost productivity & additional costs such as replacement staffing & workers compensation costs, but also potentially damage your relationship with customers.

Still not convinced?

Recent research from Pricewaterhouse Coopers may sway you. The research commissioned by beyondblue concluded that small businesses stand to gain the most from investing in the mental health of their employees. Whilst Australian businesses can expect an average return on investment from appropriate mental health strategies of $2.30 for every dollar spent, this jumped as high as $15 for small business.

Finally, let’s not forget the most important asset – the business owner. Having been married to a small business owner for close to two decades, I’ve seen firsthand the physical & emotional toll that running a small business can have on the individual. Long hours, an inability to ‘switch off’, cash flow pressures, staffing issues & a sense of feeling overwhelmed. These are just some of the daily stressors facing small business owners. A vacation – what’s that?!

11 Tips for Cost-Effective Wellness Delivery for Small Business

Not sure where to start? The following cost-effective strategies will serve as a good kickstart for a strategy that will stick:

  1. Determine the needs & interests of your employees through a simple survey or discussion at a team meeting
  2. Nominate an employee to champion the strategy
  3. Modify or extend your existing organisational policies (e.g. occupational health & safety, flexible working) to demonstrate your commitment to employee wellness
  4. Where suitable, include low cost virtual modes of program delivery (e.g. online programs, mobile apps)
  5. Extend programs to family members where possible to maximise impact & engagement
  6. Tap into free or low-cost community resources such as local council programs
  7. Collaborate with other local businesses & organise group activities or discounts on services like gym membership
  8. Partner with a nearby or larger business that has an established wellness program
  9. Integrate wellness initiatives into existing company events such as team meetings or social events
  10. Create a supportive wellness environment for example, providing bike racks to encourage employees to cycle to work or healthy catering for team meetings
  11. Subsidise activities or programs (e.g. registration for corporate sporting events)

References:

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2002) Small Business in Australia 2001, Accessible: www.abs.gov.au
  2. Department of Innovation, Industry, Science & Research (2010) ‘Key Facts – Small Business Fact Sheet’, Accessible: www.innovation.gov.au
  3. MYOB Australian Small Business Survey Special Focus Report, December 2008, p 31. Accessible: http://myob.com.au
  4. Phillips, K et al (2004) ‘Strategies for Health Promotion in Small Business’, The Art of Health Promotion.
  5. WELCOA (2008) Big Steps for Small Business, Accessible: www.welcoa.org
  6. Australian Small Business Commissioner, Accessible: www.asbc.gov.au/family-business/what-is-family-business
  7. Pricewaterhouse Coopers (2014) Creating mentally healthy workplace – return on investment analysis, Accessible: www.headsup.org.au

Your small business could be next!  Need some support? Contact Wellness Designs today on 1300 914 558 or visit www.wellnessdesigns.com.au to help you develop a tailored & cost-effective wellness solution.