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Overcoming overwhelm: two simple steps to help SMEs thrive under pressure


Ian McClelland
3 min read

A feeling of constant overwhelm is business as usual for many SME owners, HR and people managers. In fact, being ‘busy’ has almost become a badge of honour. Almost. Because – while no one wants to rest on their laurels when building a business – having an insurmountable to-do list can end up stifling growth and dampening morale.

Why has busy become the norm?

SMEs face a host of challenges; it’s not just about managing the day-to-day tasks involved in running a business, it’s also the knock-on effects from global events – supply chains, rising inflation, the cost-of-living crisis, skills shortages…

But you know all this already.

So, what’s the solution? Here are two quick wins.

1. Reframe the situation: productivity beats busy

A lot’s been written about the difference between being busy and productive (even the Dragons are discussing it). Whereas productivity is fuelled by purpose, focus and having a clear goal – i.e. working smarter and harder – being busy often feels like you’re simply reacting to problems as they arise, achieving less than you want, with no clear end in sight. Being productive is clearly the better option.

And from an individual’s perspective, it’s also far more empowering to say, “I’ve had a really productive day!” rather than, “I’m so busy!”. Being ‘so busy’ probably signifies being either under-resourced or unfocused – and that needs addressing.

This shift in focus isn’t just important for your business, it’s also vital for the economy. If being too ‘busy’ goes unchecked, small business owners and their staff are more likely to burn out – recent research revealed they’re already at breaking point, with over half experiencing poor mental health and a third surviving on less than 5 hours’ sleep a night. Yet the Federation of Small Businesses says our 5.5+ million SMEs account for “three-fifths of the employment and half of turnover in the UK private sector”, employing 16.7 million people (61% of total employment) and contributing an estimated £2.4 trillion (53%) to the UK’s annual turnover. SMEs: your country needs you!

2. Give your employees the tools they need to maximise output

Productivity’s a hot topic right now; recent research suggests that even a 1% improvement in productivity every year for the next five years could help grow the UK economy by £94 billion.

Giving your employees the support they need to grow and develop in their roles will help increase productivity and reduce churn.

A programme of continuous upskilling is an important addition to any SME’s business strategy. It’s worth exploring the potential benefits of AI and automation in general to take away a lot of the research, admin, repeatable processes and the more mechanical aspects of roles, leaving humans to do the more creative, empathetic and strategic work.

And look beyond the purely functional as well: how can you support employee wellbeing? Start by giving people access to training and talks addressing universal subjects such as time management, stress management, mindfulness, mental health awareness and sleep deprivation.

This won’t just provide individuals with the tools they need to manage their own challenges, it’ll also mean they’re aware of issues colleagues may be facing. That is something the machines are not concerned with!

At Staff Skills Training, we help businesses upskill and retain staff with our award-winning e-learning, in-house and blended training solutions. Our range of 700+ CPD and RoSPA-certified courses cover everything from mandatory training programmes to industry-specific knowledge and soft skills courses. Could we be the right fit for your business? Have a look and see what we do, or book a call with us today!

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