Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, indispensable to every local community and the 59 million employees who work for one.
Author; CEO, Motion Infusion; Creator, Managers on the Move
According to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy, nearly half of all Americans are employed by small businesses, and small businesses comprise 99.9% of all U.S. businesses. It goes without saying that it is in everyone’s best interest to keep these small businesses afloat and to keep their workforces well. So, what can every small business do to care for the well-being of their workforce, especially during this challenging time?
It’s not about the bells and whistles
In my role as CEO of Motion Infusion, a leading well-being provider, I have had the chance to work with over 200 organizations around the world, many of which are small businesses. The all-too-common perception among their leaders is that workplace well-being requires deep pockets. Too often, they see the well-resourced Googles of the world as bearing the gold standard for employee well-being.
Yes, these leading organizations have a lot to offer, from gourmet food options to expansive fitness facilities to state-of-the-art platforms and over-the-top incentives. However, in the end, it’s not the gift cards or trendy apps that employees are craving. Rather, it’s connection — connection with others, connection to one’s purpose, connection to what matters most. And, as it turns out, small businesses have a leg up on their larger counterparts in meeting these core needs.
Connection with purpose
A key antidote to rising signs of mental distress, which we might characterize as the second act of the pandemic, are heart-to-heart connections, a readiness for having real conversations about mental health and a capacity for empathetic listening — all things that are not only free but are often more easily achieved within a small business than in a large corporate entity. In a recent survey, 91% of Gen Z job seekers told Monster that they want to be able to talk about their mental health at work. With small rituals such as regular check-ins, small business leaders and managers can meet the moment in providing a pathway for more authentic relating at work.
Connection with purpose is also paramount, particularly as rates of burnout escalate unabated. A national poll conducted jointly by Harris Poll and Kumanu, a purpose-centered well-being solution provider, found that those employees who feel supported by their organization in the pursuit of their personal purpose are three times less likely to report high levels of burnout when compared to employees whose organization fails to provides this cultural support for purpose.
Finally, the Great Resignation has underscored what has been true all along: employees want to feel connected with what matters most. This includes flexibility, dignity at work, a sense of belonging, and feeling cared for by one’s employer. These are not new needs; rather, they are foundational to who we are as human beings. The only difference between the employee of yesterday and the one of today is that latter is flexing their bargaining muscles. According to a recent ADP Research Institute Report, 67% now report feeling empowered to ask for what they want, such as flexible work arrangements, compared to only 26% before the pandemic.
All about empathy
Ultimately, it’s the culture and the way the work gets done that matters most when it comes to safeguarding the well-being of a workforce. It is the way people are treated and the way leadership is defined. Perhaps best summed up in a recent interview I had with bestselling author and organizational culture expert Chester Elton: “If you had asked me five years ago what it means to be a great leader, I would have said transparency, being a great communicator, or being a powerful motivator. Now I see that there’s only one attribute that matters, and if you don’t have it, the rest doesn’t matter — empathy. If your employees don’t believe that you care about them, not just as workers but as people, you’re going to lose the war for talent.”
In other words, it’s the simple things in life that really do matter most — no bells and whistles required, and something that every small business is well-poised to provide.