65% of SME employees are still reluctant to take sick leave 

SMEs have a big problem in creating a workplace based on wellbeing values for their employees

Presenteeism is a real SME issue and greatly impacts employee wellbeing. According to a recent survey on SMEs’ current state of employee wellbeing, 65% of respondents said they were less likely to take sick leave when working remotely. Even when ill, 41% of workers said their symptoms were not serious enough to take sick leave.  

The survey by Breathe, a provider of HR software for SMEs, pointed out that of those who felt unwell but did not take sick leave, 32% could not afford to take time off work, 25% were too busy to take time off, 21% did not want to let their colleagues down, and 20% felt obliged to work anyway.

To change that, companies should open up the conversation and be more aware of this severe lack of employee wellbeing benefits, as 72% of SMEs do not offer wellbeing days. However, over a third (35%) of workers say wellbeing days would be useful. 

More pressure on SME

The survey also sought to understand whether the stresses and strains of the pandemic have left a permanent mark on SMEs, as almost half (48%) of SME employees have benefited from flexible working, and 27% are not offered it but would consider it the most useful benefit. 

The big question is whether hybrid working is a benefit or a barrier for the SME staff. From the data, it is clear that it does not reduce the stress levels of all employees. On the contrary, remote working creates a lack of direct visibility, leading  44% of workers to say that they had to be more ‘seen’ when working from home. 

Another issue is that remote work increases the pressure to be more productive, and 42% of workers feel they have to justify their performance. Almost half (47%) of SME workers said they would be less likely to take a lunch break when working from home, which is a small signal towards the blurred boundaries of remote working if not clearly defined by employers.  

Despite the results, even if it is not for everyone, remote work still meets the needs of most SME employees: two-thirds (67%) of SME workers say that staying home improves their work-life balance. 

Mental health issue

One thing is for sure; the report reveals that SMEs still don’t understand that mental health should be a priority, especially when 36% of SME workers have reported mental health problems in the last three months and 12% have taken sick leave for mental health reasons. 

To change this, SME leaders need to tackle all the toxic traits of their current culture, such as overwork, if they hope to maintain a healthy and productive workforce. 

Rachel King, Managing Director of Breathe in the UK, explained: “Employers should be looking for ways to tackle the ethos and ‘always be there’ habits that have crept into the remote working culture. Focusing on creating a culture that supports flexible working as a norm can benefit teams and improve productivity if managed intentionally.” 

Lizzie Benton, Company Culture Coach & Founder at Liberty Mind, added: “As a company, your attitudes, behaviour, and beliefs will present to people what you really think about employee well-being. If people feel invisible and pressured to work through illness, that’s not a good sign. 

“This is not the time to ignore your culture and the real ripple effect it has on your staff. 

After two years of major life changes, UK employees are wondering if their workplace is giving them something or taking something away. That’s why it’s important to put your employees first when making decisions that impact on their personal and professional lives. Creating a healthy and positive company culture is an ongoing task, and it’s a choice that will benefit your business in the long run.” 

In this article, you learned that: 

  • Only half of companies offer flexible working, although an overwhelming majority (67%) say that flexible working supports work-life balance and general wellbeing. 
  • Hybrid working: Initial problems reveal that more than half (54%) of SME employees still work overtime when working remotely and almost half (44%) find it difficult to be ‘seen’ by their employer. 

You can read the full report here.

*The survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 1,264 employees of UK SMEs, asking them a series of questions about sick leave, mental health and remote working.

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