Small business is one of the priority sectors that we are targeting for our national implementation trial of BeUpstanding. But why is small business identified as a key sector? Bernice Chong is doing her health promotion placement for her Master of Health Psychology with the BeUpstanding team, investigating the unique considerations of running workplace health promotion programs like BeUpstanding in a small business team. In this first blog in her series, she looks at why small business is one of our priority sectors.
What do we mean by small business?
Small businesses are substantial contributors to the Australian economy and private sector employment, employing close to 5 million people. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) defines small business under the following categories:
- Micro businesses (those with 0-4 employees), including sole proprietors and partnerships, and non-employing businesses.
- Small businesses (those with 5-19 employees)
Employment growth in small business have been increasing over the years, accounting for just under 60 per cent of total employment growth in the private sector between June 2013 and June 2018. This is a sizeable and growing group of employers and employees that could be targeted for workplace health promotion interventions in Australia, such as BeUpstanding. However, there are distinctive challenges, as well as opportunities, when looking to run workplace health promotion interventions in small business.
Challenges to workplace health promotion in small business
Challenges for taking up and implementing workplace health promotion in small business can be broadly categorised into those occurring at the business level, the manager level, or at the staff level.
Business Level Challenges: At the business level, the major challenge is the potential costs of workplace health promotion, including both the direct costs (how much the program actually costs) and the indirect costs (e.g., on time, staff and the facility). Small business have time and resource constraints and have to justify prioritising resources for workplace health promotion over more immediate business economic concerns. Compared to larger organisations, small business’ receive less benefits from occupational health and safety services, while return on investment is less obvious due to lower employer-based health insurance. There are also some structural challenges, with small business often lacking the appropriate infrastructure for health promotion activities and lacking expertise in the selection, implementation, and evaluation of appropriate workplace health promotion activities. This may be because they have received less exposure to workplace health promotional activities which have mainly targeted larger organisations They also may have access to fewer workplace health promotion providers.
Managerial level challenges: At the managerial level, the main challenges relate to managerial perceptions on staff availability and capacity to engage in workplace health promotion activities. Managerial attitudes on the appropriate level at which the organisation is obligated to encourage and cater for healthy behaviours at work matter. Some managers perceive that workplace health promotion activities were only appropriate when scheduled around employee work tasks or in unpaid time. This conflicts with employees who are reluctant to engage in workplace health promotion activities outside of work time due to multiple external commitments e.g. other jobs or family needs. There is also a concern that engagement in workplace health promotion activities could detract employees from their work. Small business can also have less division of labour and standardisation of jobs and working conditions which can make the coordination of workplace health promotion activities with all staff in an organisation particularly difficult. This is exacerbated by proportionally higher numbers of casual/part-time workers, and fewer permanent employees, compared to medium or large organisations, with casual employees more likely to be excluded from WHP activities.
Staff level challenges: The main challenges for staff in small business to participate in workplace health promotion is capacity and perceptions of its appropriateness in their work context. Generally, there isn’t a designated staff member in charge of, or being renumerated for, workplace health promotion activities. Delivery of activities can also be difficult, with small business generally having a work culture of being time poor where regular and communal breaks are atypical, and employees commonly work through their lunch breaks. This reduces opportunities for workplace health promotion activities to occur as a group. Staff are also often aware of the funding constraints with an organisation, which may inhibit asking for more employment benefits, such as those that can be provided through health promotion initiatives.
Opportunities for workplace health promotion in small business
Although there are challenges, there are also several opportunities for workplace health promotion in small business. Small business’ typically have a higher degree of flexibility and less bureaucracy, which can facilitate easier uptake and implementation of workplace health promotion programs. There is often closer and more direct relationships between employers and employees in small business, which means employers and managers are more likely to be aware of employees’ health and well-being needs, and employee suggestions can be taken on board more easily.
How we are helping small business to BeUpstanding
BeUpstanding is supporting workplaces, including small business, to sit less and move more. The program contains multiple components that could help address some of the barriers small business face with workplace health promotion programs, and also tap into the opportunities that small business offers. Specifically, the program itself is free and low cost/no-cost strategies are promoted. The time commitment is also relatively low (~30 to 60 minutes per week for the workplace champion). This addresses some of the costs and accessibility concerns that small business managers may have regarding workplace health promotion programs. A collaborative and participatory approach is encouraged, emphasising managerial buy in and staff consultation. This is aligned with the close nature of employer-employee relationships in small business and the need to encourage more staff participation for sustainable health promotion. As the work team chooses the strategies they want to do to sit less and move more, they are able to select strategies that best meet their needs.
We would like to thank all our Australian small businesses who have registered their interest in BeUpstanding, and a special thank you to those who are taking part in our national implementation trial. Your commitment to your staff wellbeing is highly commendable and we are cheering you on! Team BeUpstanding are keen to support Australian small business’ that are interested in improving staff health and wellbeing. We are committed to aligning our workplace health promotion strategies to your business needs and want to support you in your efforts to invest in your staff wellbeing and ultimately your business success. For Australian small businesses managers and staff who haven’t yet joined BeUpstanding but want to find out more, please get in touch.
This blog article was written by Bernice Chong as part of her Master of Health Psychology placement with the BeUpstanding team.
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