Research from WorkLife, OpenMoney’s employee benefits service, has found that mental wellbeing support is the most sought-after benefit among smaller firms, with 25% of UK SMEs keen to introduce it within the next six months.
Although benefits to support mental wellbeing have grown steadily in popularity in recent years, financial wellbeing has been a neglected area, with CIPD research showing that 24% of employers’ health and wellbeing activity was designed to support financial wellbeing in 2019.
But after mental wellbeing support, the benefit most smaller firms surveyed want to introduce is payroll savings (24%), followed by health insurance and services, cycle to work and technology discounts (22%).
These statistics form part of WorkLife’s Small Business Monitor, which is based on research carried out by 3Gem among 750 senior financial and HR decision makers in UK SME companies with 5-250 employees.
The biggest barrier to SME respondents offering employee benefits was a perception that they were too small to offer such schemes, with 36% citing this view, and a further 31% believing such benefits were too expensive.
The cost to the business was the most important factor for firms considering implementing a benefits package (82%), closely followed by the need for benefits to be easy for employees to access (80%).
WorkLife says this highlights a significant issue that, despite a growing number of SMEs wanting to support their workers’ mental and financial wellbeing, misconceptions around accessibility mean these benefits remain concentrated among larger businesses only.
Rob Marshall, managing director of WorkLife, said: “Returning to work hasn’t meant returning to normality, not for struggling small businesses anyway. And it certainly hasn’t for their workers, with so many taking a financial hit and now facing continued worries surrounding job security.
“Particularly now, employers have a vital role to play in supporting their workers mental and financial wellbeing. Employee benefits have become about so much more than pensions and insurances, but the fact is even offering simple and low-cost features like guidance on managing stress, mental health or retail discounts can give an important helping hand in times like these. Benefits like free financial advice, while currently among the least currently implemented, can go even further to helping ease some of the financial and mental stresses people will be facing right now.
“As we move through the pandemic and beyond, employees will remember how their employer supported them at the time they needed it most. The new Job Support Scheme, while welcome for employers, has potential to increase the financial strain for certain employees. With businesses needing to lean on their staff more than ever, shouldn’t their most valuable asset have someone to turn to when times get tough?
“While it’s encouraging to see so many SMEs wanting to boost their employees’ mental and financial wellbeing, misconceptions surrounding accessibility mean good intentions are as yet not always translating into concrete benefit decisions across the board. As an industry we must do more to raise awareness of the options available to this section of the market, or else small businesses will never stand a chance of levelling up with their larger counterparts.”
The study also shows mental wellbeing support to be the most offered benefit among UK SMEs for 2020, with 30% currently offering this, via avenues such as guidance on how to manage stress.
The next most popular benefits currently offered by SMEs are payroll savings and cycle to work schemes, with more than one in four (27%) offering such plans.
This is followed by discounts on health and fitness, such as gym membership and yoga classes, and discounted health insurance and services, such as dental care, which are offered by 24% of firms surveyed.
The least popular benefits are free financial guidance and shopping discounts, which are offered by just 23% of SMEs.