Despite the impact of COVID-19 in the past 15 months, small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) are more likely than their larger counterparts to be taking no action on employee wellbeing, according to the latest Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Health and Wellbeing at Work Report 2021. With six million SME employers (less than 250 employees) in the UK in 2020 – that’s over 99% of all businesses.

So, what are the barriers faced by SMEs when it comes to workplace counselling?

Perhaps they could relate to the stigma of mental health issues and the need to ‘survive’ or keep going through any adversity. The SME sector, in particular the founders, could be well characterised as entrepreneurial in spirit, hardworking and determined. The reality is that it can be harder to look after your mental health with such a strong will to succeed in your endeavours, and when poor mental health impacts a business owner or their staff it can be difficult to know where to turn. That's notwithstanding the toll COVID-19 restrictions have taken on the SME business community, which could be reflected to some extent in this and future reports into SME workplace mental health and wellbeing.

Such resistance could also be resource led – meaning limited available time or money to invest in such interventions. When prioritising meeting the costs of running the business, avoiding job losses and maintaining good cashflow, considering support for psychological health may be one task easier to avoid.

This is true in larger organisations too and points to broader considerations of employer duty of care and employee responsibility. Where is the line drawn in smaller company environments, which can often have a family operating culture creating challenges around confidentiality and signposting?

The top three causes of workplace stress are workloads, management style and COVID-19 related working challenges (CIPD, 2021). It is understandable that smaller organisations are much more exposed to broader role remits, fewer benefits - including robust pay for absences, training and development resources - and the flexibility and infrastructure which can better support changeable working landscapes. In fact, if we consider micro-business (fewer than nine employees), self-employed and freelance workers, we can see how important it is to shed a light on this issue.

BACP Workplace division is acutely aware of these challenges across all workplace environments and the opportunities it creates. We're committed to improving understanding of how workplace counselling can destigmatise the ways in which poor mental health and trauma can present themselves in the workplace, and to signpost to useful resources.

The protection and promotion of workplace mental health interventions, such as workplace counselling, seeks to eliminate or ameliorate symptoms of distress. Furthermore, it may positively impact sickness absence, commitment, job satisfaction or productivity.2

Our membership includes organisations and individuals trained professionally to meet the diverse needs of SME workplaces, while our Workplace Competency Framework outlines best practice for our practitioners in this field of work.

A new survey from BACP highlights the alarming impact that running a small business has on people’s mental health. We’ll be sharing more information about these results soon.


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