How Small Businesses Can Plan for 2022 in Uncertain Times

  • Staffing and supply-chain issues continue to create uncertainty for small-business owners.
  • But it’s still possible to run a productive year-end “wellness check” to prepare for 2022, experts say.
  • New research from Cigna + Oscar1 shows the importance of considering worker health benefits.

Staffing and supply-chain issues continue to create uncertainty for small-business owners. But it’s still possible to run a productive year-end “wellness check” to prepare for 2022, experts say.

New research from Cigna + Oscar shows the importance of considering worker health benefits. For small businesses, the end of the year is traditionally when owners and decision-makers run “wellness checks” — on the balance sheet, on the revenue pipeline, on people and culture — to set their intentions for the year ahead.

But the disruptions of this year and last continue to cloud visibility into 2022. For some small-business owners, pausing to set new intentions for a new year might feel like a luxury left in pre-pandemic times.

“Unfortunately, many of the events of 2020 and 2021 have merged into the perfect storm for business owners,” said Marla Tabaka, a former small-business owner who now mentors other owners to help stabilize or grow their companies.

According to Tabaka’s recent work with small-business owners, that has resulted in supply-chain vulnerability and a scarcity of reliable employees. Rather than being future-focused, “many owners are waiting for things to level out and reach a consistency that will offer greater stability for their business.”

Tabaka is among the small-business experts — mentors as well as economists — we spoke to for insights on how owners can productively conduct end-of-year check-ups even amid volatile conditions.

Seek perspective on the small-business labor shortage

In general, experts advise owners to celebrate wins for their own companies as well as the sector-wide wins represented by current small-business trajectories. For example, according to US Census Bureau statistics, new business applications have held steady throughout 2021, averaging about 450,000 per month, January through September.2 And by the end of the first quarter of 2021, 57% of the nation’s small businesses had fully reopened as pandemic lockdowns eased, according to a report from Kabbage.3

Economist Gad Levanon, vice president of the labor-markets division for the nonprofit business-research organization The Conference Board, advises owners to keep a sense of perspective about the staffing challenges dominating headlines about small-business recovery prospects.

One factor Levanon cited is what he calls the labor-participation rate by older Americans: the share of that age group that is either employed or looking for work. Many opted for early retirement rather than expose themselves to the risks of working through a pandemic, contributing to a statistical narrative around the worker pool that doesn’t affect all hiring managers’ day-to-day.

Tabaka agreed, saying there is a pool of qualified candidates for many sectors: “It just takes greater perseverance to find them.”

Audit benefits to meet employees’ needs

Small business employees and employers face challenges

Insider Studios

Tabaka also recommended using this time of year to audit everything from your company’s physical environment to the breadth and quality of your employee programs and benefits. In a recent survey of US small-business owners and health-insurance/employee-benefits decision-makers, 60% indicated they limit the insurance plan options offered to employees because of cost.1

The proprietary survey — conducted jointly between Cigna + Oscar, Insider Studios, and first-party data and insights platform provider Dynata — was fielded in July, and in addition to capturing the sentiments of 406 owners and decision-makers, it polled 385 small-business employees as well.

Of those, 76% of workers agreed that if a different health-insurance company offered better benefits at a lower cost, they would want their company to switch.1

Factor in comparison shopping among insurance plans. But don’t assume employees are interested only in lower premiums. A majority of respondents to the Cigna + Oscar survey — 62% of owners and decision-makers and 61% of workers — believe prescription medications should cost patients no more than $3.1 Owners could also find out whether their companies’ plans might offer access to more robust networks.

“What’s most important is to listen to what your team wants,” Tabaka said. “Sometimes it’s as simple as inclusivity. They want to be heard and valued.”

If you‘ve delayed return to office, it‘s time to develop protocols

Small-business owners feel as though they’re in a constant state of transition around whether full return-to-office plans are the right move. Within many companies, the spread of the Delta variant stalled return-to-office plans that were intended to go into effect in the fall, leaving many owners to begin anew considering whether the start of 2022 is the right time to bring teams back.

“Whether or not you consider your office a high-risk environment, a protocol is necessary,” Tabaka said. “With our population’s split mentality around safety and personal rights, employers can’t afford gray areas. Research policies that have been instituted by larger companies and tailor those ideas to suit your company’s needs.”

Another aspect of health protocols to consider for 2022, if it hasn’t already been integrated, is access to virtual care. Among the respondents to the Cigna + Oscar small-business survey, roughly half of each group (49% of owners/decision-makers and 51% of workers) agreed that if they could avoid seeing a doctor in person, they would.Roughly 7 in 10 total respondents agree virtual care visits will save time.

Liz McVoy, who operates a brand consultancy and coached many small-business owners, especially female entrepreneurs through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, said owners should reassess their value proposition, delegate more, or invest in support to make positive changes.

“Be patient and trust that the changes you make will set you up for a brighter future,” McVoy said.

Learn more about how Cigna + Oscar can help your small business here.

This post was created by Insider Studios with Cigna + Oscar.

Cigna + Oscar coverage is insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company. CA: benefits administered by Oscar Health Administrators. Other states: benefits administered by Oscar Management Corporation. Pharmacy benefits provided by Express Scripts, Inc. Cigna + Oscar health insurance contains exclusions and limitations. For complete details on product availability and coverage, please refer to your plan documents or contact a representative.


1Cigna + Oscar, Insider Studios, and Dynata. “Small business attitudes toward healthcare and benefits.” July 2021.

2US Census Bureau. “Business Formation Statistics.” Accessed December 2021.

2Facebook. “Global State of Small Business.” April 2021.

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