Running a small business is a responsibility that comes with a lot of challenges that bigger businesses do not have to worry about. For instance, employees are your most critical resource, and you need to make sure that yours are giving everything on a daily basis – however, this may not always be possible due to ongoing issues with their health or general productivity.

Large businesses may not suffer as much from these issues as they have higher numbers of employees who can cover absences and to whom work can be delegated so they can share the load wherever necessary. Small businesses, however, may suffer a great deal from even one or two employees who take time off work on a regular basis or come into work while ill to “struggle through”.

It is worth remembering that the work itself can have a major negative influence on employee health. Stress, sedentariness and poor diets due to having to eat at one’s desk all contribute to fatigue, the development of diabetes and so on – for instance, 160,000 people die every year in the UK from heart disease, and in some of those cases, the nature of their jobs may well have played a significant part.

As an indication of how significant this issue is, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index estimated in 2013 that $84 billion was being lost on an annual basis due to poor productivity in industries across the United States. High levels of absenteeism due to ill health can lead to:

  • Resentment amongst employees regularly asked to cover absent employees’ tasks
  • Extra manager time spent resolving scheduling and delegation and training employees to cover tasks
  • Safety issues due to inadequate training or understaffing
  • Poor quality of service or product due to overwork or a lack of trained employees to perform tasks

Any of these factors can be crippling for a small business. Small teams can easily fracture if it is thought that certain employees aren’t pulling their weight, time is often at a premium and a business’s reputation (small companies might be surviving purely on word of mouth, remember) can easily be damaged if their product or service isn’t up-to-scratch. Those employees who are often absent or who come to work when they shouldn’t and exhibit low levels of productivity can facilitate this sort of damage – they don’t mean to, but they do so anyway.

The challenge for employers is dealing with habitual absenteeism in a way that limits its negative impact on the company without seeming uncaring or callous. If affected employees don’t have any health insurance, you might consider introducing a health insurance scheme that they can sign up to – this will help ease their financial worries, which won’t be helping their condition. Now that the Affordable Care Act has been passed, everyone should be able to access healthcare cover, but this may not be the case as far as some people are concerned. Businesses and employers should therefore check that their employees are getting the cover that they and their families need.

Other policies that focus on other aspects apart from physical health – such as work-life balance or psychological and emotional health – would also help to increase employees’ happiness and engagement and encourage them to come to work every day feeling well and productive. This would also help reduce their stress levels, thus going some way towards actively improving their health. Small businesses should do whatever it takes to achieve this – otherwise, their absent and unproductive employees could end up dragging them down to the bottom of their sectors.