Only a third of SMEs offer health and wellbeing benefits, according to research by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD). But is that any surprise, when SMEs struggle to justify the cost per head of offering such benefits, as they’re likely to be running on an already tight budget?

But should SMEs offer their employees health and wellbeing benefits? Recent research, undertaken by Investors in People in February 2014, indicated that more than half (51%) of respondents questioned said the health and wellbeing benefits offered by their employer improve their overall job satisfaction.  Other surveys conducted have seen the issue of health and wellbeing increase in importance, as employees are placing more emphasis on the benefits being offered by their employers.

So are SMEs missing out?

Unable to compete against larger corporations in terms of salaries and benefits, SMEs may be losing out on the most talented workforce, as these individuals view large organisations as a more secure option, with a better benefits offering. So how can SMEs offer their employees ‘big business’ incentives and benefits? How can they attract and retain the very best talent for their organisation?

Research into what other competitors, or well-considered larger organisations, are offering, will offer a good guide of the types of benefits employees value. SMEs could then offer employees something that they feel is important to them, which in turn helps build a trust and loyalty to the organisation. For example, offering employee discount schemes that provide savings on the weekly shopping bills, or discounted corporate gym memberships, are attractive to employees, whilst being accessible and affordable for SMEs.

Health and wellbeing benefits both the employee and the employer

At the end of the day, offering employees a range of incentives and benefits solutions will enable SMEs to reward staff appropriately, and help retain the best staff. Health and well-being have become particularly important to employees, so offering staff something that helps them improve their lifestyle, and welfare, can provide advantages beyond a financial gain. The strategy could range from promoting healthy eating across the company, discounted gym memberships, formalised occupational health services, such as health screening, or employee assistance programmes (EAPs). SMEs who offer a wellbeing programme will have a happier, healthier, more engaged and motivated workforce.

What are the top employee benefits to help SMEs retain their employees?

SMEs actually have some advantages over larger organisations when it comes to retaining the best people. Despite health and wellbeing being cited as important for employees, there are a number of other benefits available to SMEs including the following:

  1. Flexible working: Employees really do value this, and it doesn’t cost anything to implement. It enables staff to strike a better work-life balance, by allowing to them work from home, or working extra hours and taking them back at their own convenience. SMEs could also consider offering one-off free holidays, on birthdays or work anniversaries, as a cheap and popular option.
  2. Childcare vouchers: There are now a fantastic range of on-line schemes available, which make offering childcare vouchers easy to manage and administer. These schemes are cost-effective for small businesses, as they are tax-efficient, providing savings for both employees and employers. It can also help promote a child friendly impression of an employer, which in turn helps staff feel valued and engaged, resulting in increased staff retention.
  3. Free food/drink: It is amazing how offering something for free can really boost workplace morale. Providing staff with healthy eating options, such as fresh fruit and sugar-free snacks, as well as access to water and drinks, can prove a cost effective benefit. It also helps continue to promote the importance of health and well-being among the employees.
  4. Income Protection: There are more and more options available to SMEs, which means they can offer basic cover and protection for around £200 per employee. Following the recent economic turmoil, research has shown this is another aspect employees feel strongly about, as it offers reassurance and peace of mind, knowing they are protected if circumstances mean they are unable to work.
  5. Company pension plans: Still a very highly regarded benefit, regardless of the size of the company. In addition, a new law ‘auto enrolment’ means that every employer must automatically enrol workers into a workplace pension scheme. It is therefore more important than ever that SMEs do their research, and shop around for the best pension providers to suit their size and type of business.