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How can we improve employee mental health as a small employer?

Many employers want to improve employee mental health but struggle to make the financial case. Providing affordable health insurance (with paid coverage for individuals and families) is harder for a small employer than it is for a large employer. It may be less feasible for smaller companies to offer financial perks, but MHA’s Work Health Survey findings show that non-financial perks are more important than financial compensation, can foster positive attitudes and perceptions, and increase employee engagement. This is significant given that 65 percent of employees reported working in smaller companies.

Overall, results from the Work Health Survey confirm that employees are motivated by an increased trust from management, more control over their schedules, and accessibility to job skills and responsibilities. Workplace challenges can be turned into opportunities by incentivizing employees with perks, particularly those determined to have the largest influence on workplace health.

Here are some things small employers can do to focus on benefits:

Review your health insurance offerings. There are many options for small business when it comes to offering health insurance. Small employers can offer group insurance, participate in employer-based exchanges, self-insure plans, or use some other health insurance mechanisms that are only for small employers, like A or B. In addition, some small employers join Professional Employer Companies, or PEOs, which become the ‘Employer of Record’ for multiple small businesses and can negotiate health insurance like large providers. Contact a health insurance broker for information on different plans.

Review your PTO policy. Many small employers have limited paid time off, with some retail employers offering almost no paid time off or other pay. This can be problematic for places like restaurants, where employees feel the need to come to work sick to get any money at all, even though it puts them at risk of infecting other employees or customers. Consider offering paid holidays, paid sick leave, and paid vacation to your employees. Think of the cost of hiring and training new employees and compare that to the cost of limited paid time off throughout the year.

Keep in touch with retirees and former employees. Employees who have left your company on good terms might be willing to come back and work a few hours or days when you’re in a pinch. If you have good relationships with your former employees, you may be able to call them in when someone else needs to take care of a sick family member or attend a funeral.

Think about what you can offer that isn’t a financial benefit. What is important to your employees in terms of flexibility? Do employees like the ability to set their own hours and leave if it’s slow? Do you hire a lot of college students who can benefit from using downtime at your company to study? Do you have a lot of parents who might appreciate having an agreement with a nearby childcare facility for a discount on childcare? The upside of small businesses is that you can craft benefits plans that cater to your specific employees. Be cautious, though: nothing you do should discriminate against people in protected classes, like based on gender or to those only 40 and above.

Have a contingency plan for when you’re understaffed. What can your company do if people need to take time off? Can you close off sections of a store or restaurant or limit how many people enter at one time? Can you send an email to ask customers to call or place online-only orders? Can you monitor your hours and add updated hours to your website, Google listing, or social media site? Many companies had to adjust their staffing during the COVID-19 outbreak, but these questions should have answers year-round.

In addition, the Federation of Small Businesses in the UK developed a mental health guide to give small employers a range of ideas that they could try to improve their employees’ well-being. The guide contains advice and tips on how small employers can approach mental health in the workplace.

More Information:

How can we provide remote and flexible work options?

What mental health organizations can I contact for potential collaboration?

What mental health resources can be easily shared with staff?


Work Health Survey

Federation of Small Businesses Guide for Mental Health

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