One Stop Shop for Engaging SMEs

Published by the Responsibility Deal Working Group 2011

Improving workplace health is a key priority for the Government.  Work is an important contributor to a person’s health and wellbeing, while at the same time an employee’s health and wellbeing contributes directly to the success of an organisation.

Many individuals and groups are committed to helping adults take steps towards leading a healthy lifestyle.

This guide is to help those who are particularly focused on helping small and medium sized organisations (fewer than 250 people working for them) to introduce these steps in the workplace.  The readers of this guide can be from a variety of organisations. You may work for or represent any of the following:

  • A charity
  • A health and wellbeing organisation
  • A health and safety department
  • Financial and legal services
  • A people focused service such as HR or recruitment
  • A business support group
  •  Local public sector organisations such as local authorities
  • Health and wellbeing boards
  • Larger organisations who may wish to roll out their health and wellbeing programme to SMEs in their area
  • Occupational Health provider
  • Small Business Adviser
  • Accountants and solicitors firms providing services to SMEs
  • Business Link

This guide covers the following topics:

1. What is a SME?
2. How many SMEs are there in the UK?
3. What’s in it for SMEs?
4. Engaging with SMEs
5. Working together
6. Sustainability
7. Evaluating success
8. Case studies
9. Suggested activities SMEs could introduce
10. Links to websites
11. Glossary

1.  What is a SME?

A SME is a small or medium enterprise or organisation which employs fewer than 250 people.  These businesses are further sub-divided into the following classifications:

  • Medium-sized: employing 50 – 249 staff
  • Small: employing 10 – 49 staff
  • Micro-sized: employing 1-9 staff

Back to top

2.  How many SMEs are there in the UK?

There were an estimated 4.8 million SMEs in the UK at the start of 2009, employing an estimated 13.6  million people, with an estimated combined annual turnover of 1.5 billion. 

SMEs account for 99.9 per cent of all enterprises, 59.8 per cent of private sector employment and 49.0 per cent of private sector turnover (Department for Business Innovation and Skills Oct 2010)

The focus of this guide is to provide support to those SME’s that employ staff, rather than to sole traders. It is worth noting that micro-sized businesses dominate the SME sector.


Increasing numbers of SMEs are looking for guidance on how to help their employees become healthier and due to the number of  people employed within this sector, it is equally important to encourage SMEs who may not have considered the benefits of a healthier workforce to do so.

Back to top

3.  What’s in it for SMEs?

Employer Benefits

Research has shown that where SMEs focus on their health and safety obligations, their increased awareness of the benefits of a healthy workforce will help them take proactive steps to help their employees.  When SMEs do this it is often because of one of the following key drivers:

  • Desire to reduce absence and increase productivity
  • A need to become an employer of choice retaining happy, loyal and motivated staff
  • A desire for staff to become more willing and energised about the success of their employer
  • Increased competitiveness and desire for an improved reputation
  • A reduction in recruitment and retention costs.

This means that any activities they embark on should aim to provide improvements in one or all of these areas.

Employee Benefits

Time and time again it has been proven that helping employees to improve their health and wellbeing has benefits to the employer and the employee:


  •  SMEs often work to tight staffing levels so reduced absence prevents employees becoming overloaded
  • Employees are more inclined to stay, improving skill retention and job prospects
  • Staff with good health and wellbeing are less at risk of developing health conditions

Back to top


4.  Engaging with SMEs

Analysis of successful projects has told us that to successfully engage with SMEs generally, the following points should be considered: 


  •  Programme or changes must show clear business benefits
  • High quality, professional communications that are targeted and colourful appeal more than generic mailshots.
  • Target your communication: micro and small businesses are often more interested in the compliance and legal issues, whereas medium size companies see a bigger prize in improving productivity / reducing costs / improving the bottom-line. 
  • Most SMEs tend to be digitally savvy and like to carry out short research online, however, time is precious and they may give up if don’t find what they’re looking for in 2/3 clicks. (However Department of Health research shows that approx 20% of SMEs either do not have internet access or do not associate the internet with obtaining Health and Safety advice so it is important to try a multi channel approach.)
  • Email is more successful than paper based letters or surveys, particularly in initial stages - however this communication still has to be targeted. For example it must be sector specific or for those with a particular role within an organisation.
  • SMEs will want examples of case studies to understand the potential benefits to their business before committing any resources.
  • Multi Channel approach is recommended, for example via:
    - Existing business networks e.g. Council Partnerships, forums, eg. local Chamber of Commerce, and representative bodies e.g. Federation of Small Businesses
    - Internet site with toolkits and free resources, promotion of telephone advice line
    - Regular catch up calls and offer of support with no obligation
    - Emails 
    - Trade events

Having a partnership with your local NHS / community health partnerships / public health networks, and permission to use their materials and logo on materials will provide credibility to your work. Having a good relationship with the NHS may give you access to their network lists too.

Remember too the power of “word of mouth” and “social networking” and consider partnering with suppliers to SMEs such as local accountancy firms, recruitment companies and the local press to get them on board with health and wellbeing messages.

Back to top

 5.  Working Together


The many priorities and issues an SME faces can result in failure to see through health and wellbeing programmes. Understanding the potential barriers a business may face and building a strong relationship can go some way to avoiding this:

  • Understand resource is generally tight - this applies to staff and finances
  • Keep networking or training events as short as possible - training that lasts more than one day may be difficult to fit in
  • Keep correspondence to telephone and email:  face to face implies that further action may be required
  • Be very clear up front about what is and isn’t available to avoid wasting time. SME managers are often sure of what they don’t want
  • Act quickly and deliver on everything you promise to them as they are often fast paced
  • Stress there is no need to commit to further work. There may be a reluctance/inability to take on additional admin responsibilities
  • Pledges can be an effective way to encourage small and micro businesses to make positive changes
  • Share success stories to increase PR opportunities for businesses and encourage more referrals
  • Use language they respond to and understand. Avoid terms and acronyms such as PCT and HSE. Refer to our glossary for further information
  • Suggest meeting times outside traditional 9-5 hours. Meeting times and places can be crucial and often a better response is gained outside of their own office locations
  • Remember that many SMEs may be happy to host an event if it helps to widen their network

Back to top 


6.  Sustainability

Any SME wanting to embark on a Health Work and Wellbeing  (HWWB) programme should go to their local HWWB Co-ordinator as a first port of call.

SMEs are looking for maximum impact from their efforts and you and the SME will also want to know that actions have a lasting effect. See the case studies  for examples of projects that have been proven to be sustainable. Although there are different ways to achieve this, research has shown that there are several do’s and don’ts:

  • Encourage the owner/manager to integrate their programme into an existing business plan or strategy
  • Avoid the programme being seen as a ‘nice to have’ -  it should aim to become business as usual
  • Make it easy and appealing to not only sign up but to stay in touch:
    -  Have a short catch up call at regular intervals
    -  Include your contacts in regular e-news updates
    -  Provide contact details
  • Encourage SMEs to join local business forums and networks where they can identify support
  • Signpost to local authority and public health teams who provide appropriate support
  • Provide links to websites and organisations that provide free resources and materials: see our suggested websites here
  • Encourage activities that are free/low cost and easy to implement. Click here for suggestions
  • Signpost to national campaigns such as Change4life, raceforlife, walk to work weektimeforchange and Public Health Responsibility Deal. 

Back to top

 7.  Evaluating Success


It is important to note that asking for evaluation reports can be burdensome for small firms and that where possible they should be avoided. If there is a need for them to report try to limit it to information requirements that are genuinely useful to small firms.

However, recognising achievements and, therefore, the value of the SMEs’ project is critical.  It is a sure fire way to ensure that the organisations will want to continue to focus on employee wellbeing and spread the word to other companies. There are several ways you can do this:

  • Take some key measurements at the start of the project and measure at timely intervals. These should be agreed with the SME and be relevant to their business needs and priorities. 
    -  Sickness absence levels
    -  Staff retention rates
    -  Occupational Health referrals 
    -  Costs of accidents / injuries
    -  Sales or productivity targets 
    -  Customer complaints
  • Employee surveys are a great way of measuring morale and motivation and can also include lifestyle information to track changes to wellbeing.
  • Wellbeing Action Plan: this could be devised at the beginning of the relationship and gives you an idea of what the SME wants to achieve. Quarterly status reviews will help to evaluate progress.
  • Referrals. You may want to measure the success of the programme on how many referrals and new business contacts you receive.

It is vital to remember that to evaluate the programme’s success you must keep it simple and relevant and above all, not create too much additional work for the SME. Ideally, it should be data that they already track.

Back to top

 8.  Case studies


As mentioned before, it is likely that SMEs will expect to see evidence of successful programmes. There are a range of case studies on the Government’s Health, Work and Well-being website.  Please click on the following to find out more. 

Less than 50 employees:
Less than 150 employees
Less than 249 employees

Back to top

9.  Suggested activities SMEs could introduce

The below list of interventions tend to work much more effectively when employees are consulted first. It is worth noting that workers often come up with the best ideas, employees don’t take kindly to initiatives being imposed on them, particularly if they don’t address their needs:

  • Focus on key areas that will make an impact and reduce absence: 
    -  Mental wellbeing at work
    -  Increasing resilience to stress
    -  Healthy eating
    -  Increasing physical activity
  • Setting up a walking group for lunchtimes or after work
  • Providing lists of local gyms and exercise groups
  • Healthy breakfast club
  • Recipe sharing & swaps: creating a healthy recipe book by employees for employees
  • Encouraging a couple of employees to act as health and wellbeing champions or ambassadors
  • Link up with local authority and public health teams for support
  • Sign up to Change4life for healthy eating and physical activity advice and resources
  • Swapping the biscuit barrel for fruit
  • Hold sports and social events (non-alcohol related)
  • Encouraging employees to take the free HSE stress survey
  • Look for free training courses run by local business link
  • Employees to sign up for a local fun run in aid of charity
  • Encourage the managers within the SME to attend training for their development to learn to communicate with and effectively support their employees on health and wellbeing issues. This will result in helping the wellbeing of everybody.

Back to top


10.  Website links

Back to top

11.  Glossary

Definition of health and wellbeing “ A subjective state of being happy, healthy, content, comfortable and satisfied with the quality of ones life.”
Sector The industry that the organisation chiefly operates in. Such as, manufacturing or finance.
Redundancy When a workforce is reorganised and a role or selection of roles is no longer required.
Flexible working When an employee has the option to agree a change to normal working hours. Often to support lifestyle or health needs.
Volunteer A member of staff carrying out unpaid work. Generally for work experience.
Part time employee  A member of staff who works fewer than 35 hours per week on a regular basis.
Full time employee A member of staff who works approx 35 hours per week on a regular basis.
Profit/loss The difference between an organisation’s income and expenditure. When positive, it is profit. When negative it is expressed as a loss.
Turnover The total amount of revenue an organisation generates each financial year.
Engagement Becoming involved, so signing up to a project or a pledge.
Participation Taking part in an activity.
Absence Authorised or unauthorised absence from work, that is generally unplanned and may be at a cost to the organisation.
Presenteeism When an employee attends work, although is not fit or performing at their usual capacity

Back to top

Comments? Questions? Feedback? Please Contact us