By: Jonathan Richards, CEO at Breathe
Culture is one of the most important aspects of any business. Done well, it fosters a community and creates the perfect working atmosphere that enables teams to get the most out of each other whilst also providing a great support network. Cultural development is a constant, evolving process that requires input from leaders and their employees to create the right working environment.
Despite culture being the backbone of many businesses, our research last year, ‘The Culture Economy 2021’, found that almost a third (27%) of SME employees quit their job due to poor workplace culture, an increase of 6% from last year (21%).With a mental health pandemic on the horizon potentially spanning a decade and physical health anxieties increased by Covid-19, businesses are under pressure to introduce adequate safeguarding measures.
That is why we strongly believe it is important companies foster the right culture whereby presenteeism isn’t an issue and employees feel supported to take a day off when feeling ill. It may sound simple, but toxic workplace cultures are an all-too-common factor in the story of burnout.
Prioritising employee health and company culture
SMEs need to focus on company culture by prioritising employee health and well-being, leading from the front and promoting the right values from the top down. After all, companies are all about their people, so businesses should be doing everything possible to support them properly , starting with encouraging rest when ill.
In a recent survey we conducted, 68% of SME business leaders say they have witnessed an increase in mental health issues reported since the pandemic began – an unsurprising but concerning figure all the same. The long-term impacts are as yet unknown, however it is important that all members of the team are well supported as we move forward.
As seen, staff retention and churn issues are prevalent. Whilst somewhat surprising, it proves people won’t stand for mistreatment in any scenario and will leave a job that doesn’t support them. Many businesses are currently facing talent recruitment and retention challenges in what has been variously termed ‘The Great Resignation’ and ‘The Great Reshuffle’. The pandemic has led to more people than ever before fundamentally revaluating their lives, including their careers and work. Those employees who do not feel they have been well supported by their employers during the pandemic are voting with their feet.
We urgently need to see cultural changes happen to remedy this. Much more needs to be done in keeping people safe, mentally and physically, especially from a work perspective.
Culture during Covid
From a sick leave perspective, it has been interesting to see how working from home and Covid-19 has impacted employees’ attitudes. For instance, October 2021 sick leave data from our platform showed an increase of 10% in sickness recorded on our systems logged under ‘cold’, compared to October 2019.
Towards the end of last year there were a lot of stories in the media about the UK’s workforce being hit with colds and flus for the first time since Covid. It was incredibly interesting to see such an increase in sick leave logged under ‘cold’ in October 2021, compared to 2019. With social distancing, wearing masks and using hand gel becoming the norm, the seasonal cold and flu passed many of us by earlier last year. But, as the UK continued to open up over the summer, people started to become blighted by colds and flu more – and rightly taking the time off to rest and recuperate.
The latest Omicron variant has unfortunately put a slight hold to that, with the Christmas period seeing cases skyrocket like never before and the Prime Minister putting in place his ‘Plan B’ measures. As the cases start to plateau and more of the population have their third booster jab, it is hopeful we will start to see the end of this variant, and a return to the common cold.
As SMEs steer through everything that Covid-19 has thrown at them the past 2 years, culture should continue to be a priority. A great company culture encourages personal growth, offers flexibility, fosters trust, encourages risk taking and offers praise and acknowledgement – and most importantly, helps employees and businesses navigate through difficult times together.