Perks with Purpose – How SMEs are Supporting Employee Mental Wellbeing


According to MFHA England, mental ill health is responsible for 72 million working days lost, and costs £34.9 billion each year. The same survey showed the following: 

  • 1 in 6 workers will experience depression, anxiety or problems relating to stress at any one time
  • Presenteeism accounts for 2 times more losses than absences
  • 9% of employees who disclosed mental health issues to their line manager reported being disciplined, dismissed or demoted
  • 69% of UK line managers say that supporting employee wellbeing is a core skill, but only 13% have received mental health training. 

These stats were taken in 2020 – before the onslaught of isolation and distress caused by the global pandemic. Many employees have struggled with lack of social interaction and support, coupled with lockdown measures and financial stress. And while restrictions cautiously begin to lift, the damage the pandemic has caused to our collective mental wellbeing is only just beginning to show. 

Thanks to a recent focus on mental health, many employers have begun to recognise the role it plays in the success – or failure – of their companies. And their efforts are more important than ever. In 2020, only 22% of self-funded individuals booked more than one mental health support session. In contrast, 61% of business employees booked more than one session last year.

Engagement with therapy is higher when it’s paid for by the company. This uptake in employees accepting mental wellbeing support from their employers speaks for itself.

Blue Monkey Coaching founder Sam Munslow works with employers to support staff wellbeing while working from home. “Investing in their staff wellbeing has not only shown that they recognise and want to support them through current challenges,” explains Sam, “It’s also improved relationships, communication, workplace enjoyment and productivity – a 15% increase in productivity with a recent team!” 

At Addition, we’ve made it our mission to support the wellbeing of our SME clients by delivering high quality financial services and providing peace of mind. This World Mental Health Day, we’ve reached out to startup founders to find out what practical measures they’re taking to protect the mental wellbeing of their employees.

1. Paid Time Off and Flexi Hours

Ory Weihs, Founder, Degree Choices

Having a work-life balance is really key to performing well when you are at work, so as a founder, this is something that I try to instill in the team. I lead by example. My team knows that they probably won’t hear from me in the afternoon, but for sure again in the evening because I’m with my kids. Sharing family photos in our off topic channels is a common thing too because that’s important to us and part of what makes us who we are.

Selina Han, CEO and Founder, Hong Kong Proficiency Consultancy Company Ltd

For me, flexibility paired with personal ownership is key. Even if you’re a startup where everyone is wearing multiple hats and/or racing for a deadline, you can still be flexible – onsite, offsite, hybrid, weekdays, weekends.

Some people want to burn the candle at both ends to meet that deadline and then be able to take an extended holiday. Others value a work-life-balance on a weekly basis. They’ll be all yours on weekdays, but need weekends tech-free, (or if constraints limit that, have a No Tech Sunday or Saturday but let them choose which one.) I think a good leader empowers their team to self-organize with a minimum number of guardrails in place.

Gabriele Musella, Founder, Coinrule

For us, prioritizing employee mental health has impacted how we operate. We have flexible work hours where employees have the freedom to structure their work time in a way that best suits them and minimizes stress and burnout. We place more emphasis on the output of work done, not the number of hours spent in front of the system.

 Alec Dobbie, CEO and cofounder, FanFinders

Understand that your team has commitments and pressures outside of work and allow for them. Don’t be the employer that stops someone making an important appointment or taking a big step in their lives. Understand that allowing time off brings greater trust for the future.

Encourage them to not work. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But we have a home-based workforce and it’s quite easy for them to slip into work in the evenings and at weekends. I’m a firm believer in output not necessarily equalling input and, for many roles, working more hours can be counterproductive.

Tim O’Brien, Founder, The Healthy Place

Retail can be really tough due to hours and weekends. Because of this we are closed on Sundays and close quite early for retail – at 7pm each night. I like to close during any holiday that I can justify. The big ones obviously, but also Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labour Day. I also give a minimum of two weeks PTO to all employees starting Day one. This includes mental health days.

Rik Courtney, CEO, Be More Social

You can’t really plan bad patches or stressful projects to fit around when you have spare holiday, so we don’t put a limit on the amount of holiday you can take. The main worry most companies have with that is that people will take less holiday (we combat that by regularly having the “you deserve some time off! When shall we book it in?” chat) or that productivity will suffer; neither’s been our experience.

2. Bring in the Experts

Dan Fish, Chief People Officer, Invosys

Now more than ever, it’s crucial that people aren’t just aware of mental health but can also see the signs of when any member of our team is struggling so that they can help. Which is why over 15% of our workforce is now trained as an official mental health first aider.

Andrew Jervis, CEO and cofounder, ClickMechanic

We enrolled our team into a programme called Spill which gives them access to 24/7 mental health care which they can access wherever and whenever they want either via online or talking therapy.

This has been a fantastic tool as it also has a Slack integration, which helps keep the team engaged and involved in well-being activities and speak to professionals when things get really tough.

Charlotte Jarvis, Senior Digital Executive, Hudson Outsourcing Ltd

Maintaining a healthy wellbeing is important and we want our staff to feel good physically and mentally. Staff who need any support or advice regarding mental wellbeing can use our free counselling and advice service. This service can be used to discuss any personal matters they wish to remain confidential.

The service is easy to access via telephone and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This reassures us at times outside of work where we may be unable to assist our staff, they have access to a service that can discuss their problems.

Sanjay Aggarwal, Founder, Spice Kitchen

We’ve set up a relationship with a therapy practice and will provide therapy for anyone in the team who needs it. We have also brought in the help of a coach who provides confidential space for people to air their grievances if it is work-related and this gets fed back to me in a constructive way.

Rik Courtney, CEO, Be More Social

During the pandemic, I supported Be More Social staff by hiring a mindset coach who now works with our employees in the business on a monthly basis.

We had a period of extremely fast growth last year, where the company was growing quickly, which came with an added pressure for employees. This mindset training really helped staff through a challenging period and was imperative in helping the team to remain positive and protecting their mental health.

Gabriele Musella, Founder, Coinrule

We invite mental health experts occasionally to encourage the team on how to be better. Also, we have a happiness officer who conducts regular happiness checks and acts as a mental health advocate ensuring that everyone is doing well. Most importantly, we are open to adopting practices that protect the mental health of all employees.

3. Take Time Out

Alex Minchin, MD, Zest Digital

We run an annual Wellness Day each year to encourage our team to focus on themselves. This is a free day to do something mentally or physically rewarding that is outside of your normal. This has included upcycling, long hikes, baking, DIY, gardening, and more. One rule: NO screens.

Gabriele Musella, Founder, Coinrule

To encourage work-life (life-work) balance, we encourage the whole team to block notifications on slack during non-working hours and update their Slack status with things like “vacationing”, “Lunch”, “out sick”, “productive hours”, etc, to avoid disturbance. 

We’ve noticed that the frequency and length of meetings contribute to stress, so we have an ‘anti-social’ day when employees can unplug and relax from the fatigue that comes from regular online conferencing. We also have a standard meeting length of 15-30 minutes to keep meetings focused. 

4. Out of Office Perks

Tim O’Brien, Founder, The Healthy Place

I pay for gym memberships for all my employees because of how powerful working out is for your physical and mental health.

Selina Han, CEO and Founder, Hong Kong Proficiency Consultancy Company

I like to have several motivational options available, and I just ask them what they want. Annual gym membership? Flexible work hours? Concert tickets? Spa coupons? 

I remember one single mother told me she didn’t want any of that, but would appreciate a transportation allowance. I think as a leader you shouldn’t assume you know what someone needs or would appreciate, but instead let them feel comfortable with telling you.

Alec Dobbie, CEO and cofounder, FanFinders

Be mindful and do what you can. If you’re a remote business, make sure homeworkers have all the correct kit and if possible, try to gift some non-curricular help. We give Headspace and Audible accounts.

Dan Fish, Chief People Officer, Invosys

We partner with a financial advisor to offer sessions to our employees that help them understand and manage their finances. No matter what stage in life you’re at, we know that everyone could use a little guidance when it comes to money.

We also offer a £400 grant to all our employees each year to contribute to developing a skill — whether it’s related to their job role at Invosys or not. Many of our employees choose to subsidise their driving lessons, learn a new language or pick up something less conventional such as circus skills or pole dancing.

Rich Mehta, Founder, Rigorous Digital

All our employees get a free magazine subscription. The aim is for them to have something to unwind with, without it coming out of their paycheck.

We cover the base cost of gym membership. Exercise has consistently been proven to positively affect mental health (and it’s something I use regularly to improve mine) so it’s another way of supporting our people

5. Take Time to Bond

Charlotte Nichols, MD, Harvey and Hugo

Working from home has been great for productivity and our carbon footprint, as well as keeping everyone safe. We do miss each other though, and so, since restrictions have lifted, we’ve held fortnightly team-building days. Each month, one will be focused on working together in a business centre or shared office, while the other is focused purely on fun.

Activities have included a day at the beach, yoga sessions and a trip to a rewilding farm – all of which gave everyone a chance to let off steam and reconnect, away from the pressures of work.

Zoom calls and staff surveys are all well and good, but nothing beats getting the whole team together face to face – especially when they’re under strict orders to have fun and relax!

Alex Minchin, MD, Zest Digital

This year, all team members are encouraged to grow fruit or veg, which we will then harvest and bring to a team feast next summer. Note: this is our new challenge. Rather than consume things as part of a normal team party, we’re going to grow our own party whilst also feeling the rewards of nurturing something.

Alec Dobbie, CEO, FanFinders

Talk to your team regularly. Tell them what’s happening, share the plan and their part in it. Everyone wants to understand how their effort is adding to the overall game and these conversations matter. Have regular ‘town hall’ style meetings where you share successes both in and outside of work.

Andrew Jervis, CEO and cofounder, ClickMechanic

We created a dedicated people representative role whose responsibility was to assist the team’s mental health. From here we spoke to our team via surveys and 1:1s to find out what would be truly beneficial to them and then tailored a whole series of different programmes, events and initiatives to support the team.

Tim O’Brien, Founder, The Healthy Place

I make it a point to connect with all my employees one on one 3-4 times per year to be checking in and making sure they are getting the support they need business wise and giving them general encouragement in their personal lives.

I remind them constantly that “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, take someone with you.” Handling life’s challenges are much easier mentally when you know you are in it together with a team.

Rich Mehta, Founder, Rigorous Digital

 I try to just check in with the people who work for us from time to time, even when there’s not a “work” need to do so. Everyone has stuff outside of work they may be dealing with, and it helps just to give them a forum to tell someone they’re okay, or not.

Whether you’re a one-man show or you manage a team, mental wellbeing is more important than ever. As you can see, there are many ways to do this without breaking the bank. But if you’re hoping to find wiggle room in the budget, we can help you out with that. Give us a call and let’s talk about your vision for your employee benefits. Together, we can make it all add up.

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