SMEs risk future growth by sidelining the health and wellbeing of their employees

13 September 2015


  • Three quarters (76%) of SME leaders who’ve had an employee take a long sickness absence reported a significant impact on business growth
  • Yet, less than half (46%) say employee health and wellbeing will be a key consideration as they grow their business
  • Meanwhile, two in five (43%) will never consider providing health and wellbeing benefits
businessman sitting at his desk
Leaders of Small and Medium Enterprises acknowledge that employees are critical to the early stage growth of their business, but many are failing to sufficiently support their health and wellbeing, according to new research by Bupa.

Two in three SME leaders (63%) agree that their early hires were critical to the growth of their business. Yet, less than half (46%) believe employee health and wellbeing will be a key consideration in their future growth strategy. With employees playing such a crucial role in helping SMEs to succeed from the start, Bupa is calling for businesses to recognise the impact of a healthy workforce on the growth and sustainable future of their companies.

The impact of an employee’s health on a business is clear. The study finds that three quarters (76%) of SME leaders who have had an employee take a long sickness absence reported a significant impact on the growth of their business. Meanwhile, nearly half (46%) believe even an early short-term absence would have been damaging.

The severity of the issue came to light with one in three (32%) SME leaders admitting they have lost money because of sickness absence. In fact, nearly half (47%) admit that if a team member took a significant period of absence now it would impact business growth.

Richard Norris, SME Director at Bupa, comments:

“The impact individual employees have on the growth of start-ups cannot be underestimated. Even one person on short-term sick leave can have a big effect on business growth and fellow colleagues in a small team. Yet, leaders are still not doing enough to support their employees keep healthy and well as their enterprises grow.”

Worryingly, despite the strong link between employee health and wellbeing and business growth, a quarter (25%) of SME leaders admit that their business has become less concerned with health and wellbeing as it has grown. A quarter of SME owners and directors (24%) claim they don’t have the time to think about employee health, while just 13% have employed HR professionals with specific responsibility for employee health and wellbeing. More than half (53%) do not provide employees with any health and wellbeing benefits, whilst two in five (43%) say they will never consider providing such benefits.

Richard Norris continues:

“Many UK businesses are at the tipping point of success. SMEs must recognise that health and wellbeing is not a concern for later, but a key lever that should be an integral part of their growth strategy from the start. If small business owners continue to sideline employee wellbeing, they risk losing market share and good talent to more supportive competitors. By supporting the health and wellbeing of their people, leaders are helping to protect the long-term health of their business.”

Despite many SMEs admitting that employees are critical to early stage growth, and employee absence has a significant impact on their business, the size of the organisation is a key driver in the decision to introduce health and wellbeing benefits. Three in ten (28%) SME leaders believe they are not at the size where they need to take employee health and wellbeing seriously, while one in ten (12%) say they will wait until they have over 100 employees to provide health-related benefits. A third (32%) claim that health and wellbeing benefits are for larger corporations. On average, SMEs provide health and wellbeing benefits when they hit 40 employees.

Notes to editor

500 SME owners and directors were independently surveyed in July 2015 by OnePoll.

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

At Bupa, we have no shareholders. Our priority is looking after you... through our care homes, health insurance, health centres and dental centres. Bupa. Our focus is your health.

We have 15.7 million health insurance customers, provide healthcare to around 14.5 million people in our clinics and hospitals, and look after over 23,000 aged care residents.

We directly employ around 80,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the USA, Brazil, the Middle East and Ireland, and many more through our associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

Health insurance is around 73% of our business. In a number of countries, we also run clinics, dental centres, hospitals, and care homes and villages.

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