SMEs worried about keeping employees safe from COVID-19

The pandemic’s impact on employee health and wellbeing is the top concern for UK SMEs both in the short and long terms.

In a recent study, more than a quarter (28%) of businesses report they are anxious about keeping employees safe from the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace.

A similar proportion (26%) were troubled by the impact of the pandemic on workers’ mental wellbeing.

New research by employee benefits platform WorkLife by OpenMoney, found 21% of SMEs are worried about helping their employees manage the long-term impact of the pandemic on their personal finances and their wellbeing.

A fifth of those surveyed (20%) were also troubled by how they would keep workers engaged as they moved to work remotely more permanently.

Steve Bee, director at WorkLife by OpenMoney, told HR magazine the immense challenges of the past year have made SMEs recognise their workers are the ones who will help them get their business back to where they were before the pandemic.

He said: “It’s great to see so many businesses considering how they can give back to those who have demonstrated such loyalty and versatility.

“However, with so many businesses facing financial challenges, the reality is it’s going to be some time before many feel confident enough to start investing in things like staff rewards.”

Bee said benefits such as one-off bonuses are not going to make a real difference to employees after the year they have had.

He said: “Businesses should be looking further afield at smaller, more meaningful ways they can give workers a helping hand over the coming months.

“For example, offering access to financial advice can help with managing stress and other mental health concerns, and perks like retail discounts could offer a vital lifeline to some people, particularly among those who may have been furloughed or had hours cut during lockdown.”

Bee added that given most people in the UK work for small businesses, it is important businesses understand the different options available to help them alleviate concerns surrounding employee wellbeing.

“For many people, the workplace is the only place they are going to be able to access the support that they need,” he said.

WorkLife by OpenMoney surveyed 750 senior financial and HR decision-makers in UK SME companies with 5 to 250 employees between the 14 to 22 March 2021.

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