Setting the agenda: the importance of leadership

But a caring culture must be established from the top down. It’s easy for a small business to say it’s going to become a company that cares, but senior leaders and business owners need to follow through with tangible action.

No small business can survive in the long-term without effective leadership. Supporting and guiding employees to achieve common goals is essential for success and good leaders create a positive company culture. Senior leaders and business owners must buy in to the concept of a caring organisation, help define it in relation to their company and recognise its positive effects on the bottom line.

What does this mean in practice?

Buy in to a caring culture
To genuinely lead by example, it is important for leaders to buy into and understand the financial benefits of showing staff they care. As a business owner you are likely to be under pressure to cut costs and optimise return on investment in every way possible, but take the time to understand exactly how employee wellbeing impacts your balance sheets. For example, the cost to the average SME of replacing a staff member earning £25,000 or more is around £26,595 per employee, so it makes financial sense to invest time and effort in your approach to employee wellbeing.

Lead by example
Once you have bought into the concept, behave as you would expect every other employee in your business to behave. For example, if senior leaders are working flexibly, more junior employees will be encouraged to do so too. Now that the law gives all employees the right to request to work flexibly, the opportunity to change working hours and location should become the norm, not just a perk for parents. This is especially important in smaller businesses where staff are more likely to work alongside and be influenced by their leaders.

Embed this across the business
Leaders and business owners should also ensure a caring culture is embedded across all layers of a company. Consider whether there’s a need to change internal perceptions around asking for help and make sure you communicate the support available to staff at all levels. This is especially true of employee benefits as two thirds of SMEs that have invested in good benefits don’t tell staff what they are entitled to and therefore lose money through increased staff turnover . Leaders can communicate through emails and all company meetings, one-to-one catch ups with staff or even through social media channels.

Inspire and empower line managers
Alongside senior leaders, line managers must also buy into the concept of a caring organisation and understand just how they can implement this type of culture within their teams. No matter how progressive leaders are, if line managers are not instilling the same ethos, it won’t work.

There are a number of ways to get line managers on board and equip them to do this. Firstly, give them the autonomy to make decisions and the trust to get on with the jobs they have been hired to do and, in turn, they will pass this on to their employees. Secondly, make sure line managers fully understand the range of tools at their disposal and the support available from their leaders to help develop and retain talent. Thirdly, provide training opportunities, whether that’s training on how to spot and handle mental and physical health issues in the workplace or addressing day-to-day concerns like making sure they know how to handle flexible working requests.

These changes don’t have to cost anything, yet they can have a huge impact on company culture and radically improve loyalty and retention among staff – even more so in small businesses, where leaders are far more visible to junior staff. If small business owners and senior managers get this right, good practice and a caring culture can be embedded at all levels, improving morale and engagement across the organisation.

By Peter O’Donnell, CEO of Unum

Image: Leadership concept via Shutterstock