SMEs putting staff at risk of burnout


ILM Logo mediumResearch from AXA PPP healthcare suggests small and medium sized employers are putting staff at risk of stress and health issues, reports Helen Mayson

SMEs make up 99.9% of the UK’s private sector business, but a new poll of SME employees suggests that their full-on pursuit of commercial success could be putting staff at risk of stress, poor health and total burnout.

Almost half (46%) of the 1,100 polled said they regularly work four or more hours of overtime a week, while 29% put in seven or more extra hours every week. And for 52% of the those people, all those extra hours don’t mean any extra money in the bank either.

One in five (21%) regularly take 30 minutes or less for lunch and 12% don’t take a lunch break at all.

 “Small and medium sized business are the backbone of the economy – driving innovation, enterprise and growth,” says AXA PPP healthcare SME director Glen Parkinson. “Their commitment is commendable yet our study shows that owners and bosses may be putting themselves and their employees at increased risk of burnout and ill health through protracted overwork.

“Most owners and bosses of small and medium sized firms recognise the link between health and wellbeing and productivity,” Parkinson continued, “and many are acting on the insight by providing benefits such as healthcare cover and access to counselling helplines to help employees deal with the pressures in their lives.

Managers suffer most

The problem is even worse when it comes to managers. The AXA PPP findings echo recent research from ILM, which revealed that 94% of UK managers work over their contracted hours every week and around 47% work through their lunchbreaks.

The ILM survey also identified the impact of smartphone technology on under-pressure workers, with 60% saying they use their personal phone for work matters and over eight out of ten workers (86%) regularly checking their emails on evenings and weekends. A hard core of 21% spend over an hour per day sending email via their smartphones, and typically check their work email more than ten times per day outside of office hours.

Charles Elvin, CEO of ILM, said: “Smartphones are a fantastic enabler of flexible working, but we see here that they can also lead to some rather unhealthy behaviours, such as the obsessive checking and sending of out-of-hours emails. We all know how stressful it can be to receive an urgent late night email when you feel compelled to respond immediately. Organisations can help address this with some clear guidelines on email etiquette, including when best to send and reply to important messages.”

AXA PPP Healthcare’s top tips for a well workforce

  1. Encourage employees to attend their medical appointments. By knowing it is okay to visit their doctor during working hours, problems can be dealt with in a timely fashion and lead to a faster recovery and return to work.
  2. Foster a workplace culture that encourages employees to live healthy and active lives; highlight the health risks associated with poor diet and lack of exercise, and stress the importance of ‘recharging the batteries’ by taking healthy breaks during the working day.
  3. Try to create an open and honest environment where people know they’re appreciated and respected, and aren’t frightened to discuss their concerns with colleagues and bosses.
  4. Train line mangers to spot signs of stress, anxiety and depression, and put in place action plans to help affected employees – for example, see AXA PPP’s online resource Help manage stress in the workplace. Providing access to professional counselling helplines can be a big benefit to employees who are struggling to cope.
  5. Stay up to date with resources to help manage workplace health and wellbeing – for example, government sites such Health for Work, the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives and Healthy Working Wales offer a wealth of information and guidance for employers. So too does AXA PPP healthcare’s Resources for small businesses

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