Worksite Planning

How Small Businesses Are Emerging From The Pandemic

Focus on well-being sets small businesses apart to attract & retain talent

New research from Guardian Life shows minority and women-owned businesses under 100 employees lead in work/flex, mental health resources and benefits offerings. Access the report here.

NEW YORK, N.Y., November 16, 2021 – The Great Resignation has companies of all sizes scrambling to attract and retain talent, but small businesses in particular are grappling with the challenge. According to the latest research from Guardian Life (Guardian), workers at small businesses who said they were “happy or very happy at my job” dropped to 48%, down from 55% in 2019, and only 36% said their organization offers adequate mental health support.

“Despite the challenges that small businesses have faced during the pandemic, the silver lining in our research shows that, the businesses who have remained thriving and surviving have done so because of their ability to meet the needs of their employees with flexible work policies, voluntary benefits, and wellness programs,” said Chris Smith, Head of Group Benefits, Guardian. “While we understand that the Great Resignation adds another layer of complexity, our research validates that with the right solutions, small businesses can be as competitive as large employers in their effort to attract talent.”

The Key To Attracting & Retaining Talent

The latest findings from Guardian’s Workplace Benefits Study titled “Inflection Point: How Small Businesses are Emerging from COVID-19,”examines how small businesses with 100 employees and less continue to emerge from the pandemic. Historically, small businesses have prided themselves on providing employees with greater connection to an organization’s purpose and a more personal, close-knit work environment compared to larger employers, but the research confirms this is no longer enough to attract and retain talent.

As small businesses experienced significant revenue losses, many were forced to downsize their workforce through furloughs or layoffs. In response to a workforce under pressure, nearly half of all small businesses report that the pandemic caused them to focus more on employees’ well-being. In addition to bolstering technology to accommodate a rapid transition to remote work, many small businesses implemented technology-based platforms to support employee benefits enrollment and administration. Besides easing the administrative workload of human resources and benefits-related tasks, digitalized platforms offer enhanced access to employee benefits.

The businesses who have remained thriving and surviving have done so because of their ability to meet the needs of their employees...

Financial Pressures Stymie Meaningful Changes

Employee well-being, particularly for employees at firms under 50 employees, declined with only three in 10 workers reporting high well-being. This is based on Guardian’s Workforce Well-Being Index score, which is derived from workers’ self-assessments of their financial, physical, and emotional health. To address the problem, almost half of small businesses (46%) now offer wellness programs, up from 23% in 2018. However, financial pressures caused by the pandemic have kept small businesses from making meaningful changes to these types of programs—while small employers say the pandemic did cause them to focus more on employees’ well-being, nearly seven in 10 (66%) didn’t make any changes to their benefit offerings as a result of COVID-19.


Also, a deeper analysis of the research showed that Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (M&WBEs) demonstrate a stronger commitment to generous benefits and their employees’ financial health. For example, more than six in 10 (62%) M&WBEs agree they have a responsibility to ensure the financial preparedness of their employees compared to just over half of employers overall. And when compared to all small firms overall, M&WBEs were more focused on employee well-being as it pertains to increasing benefits education (70% vs 58%), adding voluntary benefits (71% vs 52%), expanding mental health resources (72% vs 56%), and offering flex hours/telecommuting (69% vs 58%).

Additional key findings from the report include:

  • ICHRAs gain momentum among small firms. Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Accounts (ICHRAs) enable businesses to reimburse employees tax-free for individual health insurance premiums and other medical expenses rather than paying for health insurance directly. For small businesses, this can be an effective cost-saving tool and an option for addressing medical insurance. Our research found more than half of small firms (54%) say they are familiar with ICHRAs; only 26% of small firms currently offer an ICHRA, and 27% would be interested in exploring one.
  • Small business investment in technology continues to rise despite pandemic. Like all companies, small businesses had to make a rapid transition to remote work and implement technology-based platforms that would help with collaboration, benefits enrollment, and administration. Seventy-nine percent of small firms said the pandemic accelerated their use of technology, and 8 in 10 outsource at least one HR benefits-related function.
  • More small firms have become members of Professional Employers Organizations (PEOs). By working with PEOs, small businesses are able to offer their employees more benefits and streamline HR functions. Our research showed about 4 in 10 small firms currently use a PEO, and most agree the pandemic prompted them to work with one. The growing need to expand benefits and have the HR support to administer services (i.e. payroll support) makes it appealing to work with a PEO with 44% of small firms saying they plan to use a PEO plan in the next 2 years.


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