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Director and Specialist Advisor on Work, Wellbeing and Health, Flourish Workplace Ltd
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Jane Abraham

Overcoming the ‘so what’ question – looking at health and wellbeing from an SME perspective

Authors: Jane Abraham Director and Specialist Advisor on work, wellbeing and health at Flourish Workplace Ltd

24 November 2015

After working in this field for a number of years I have developed a particular interest in engaging SMEs in this agenda. This new report by the Work Foundation echoes many of my experiences with SMEs as I have continually sought to understand what the barriers and enablers are for this sector and how best to engage them at scale.

Over time I have tried many methods; from trying a ‘hub and spoke’ approach with Ginsters by delivering their successful programme to their chain of supply, social marketing research, regional and local focus groups and forums, and by building a prototype portal specifically for this sector.

The ‘so what’ question has come up on many occasions as most SMEs do not recognise health and wellbeing as a business priority for them. I think we need to change the dialogue from purely a health message towards one that is far more business focused. The ‘productivity puzzle’ and the potential problems associated with the introduction of the national living wage means we have an ideal opportunity to reinforce the message that happy, healthy staff are more productive, committed and provide better service. All this is vital to help SME’s survive. We should be working closely with business support organisations, BIS and the LEPS who are best placed to get this message heard.

The development of the prototype portal was based on extensive dialogue and research with micro and SME business owners. We tested out a variety of things; what language to use, how they access information and advice, who they would trust for this, their opinions on what is currently available, and what resources they would like?

From this research it is evident that the majority of owners do not belong to formal business networks, and are generally unaware of the local and national resources available to them. Most also think that health initiatives are expensive and need specialist staff to deliver them. Building local partnerships, and promoting national initiatives, will help make it easier and offer local support. We also need a mechanism to showcase all the resources that are free too.

Communicating information in a way that is specifically designed to meet their needs is also very important, but not through ‘watered down’ versions of the information already available on the internet aimed at larger employers as this does not translate well.

This will help build confidence in this sector and hopefully begin to convince them that this is a business priority for everyone.