small business owner working at a coffee shop

Mental health and wellbeing for small business owners and employees

Rose Davidson is an independent business owner, podcast host, international #1 bestselling author and an advocate against domestic and family violence, childhood sexual abuse and mental health stigma.

Small business ownership and management presents many upsides, but depending on the type of small business that you have, there can be a number of challenges to face on any given day. 

Some of the key challenges faced by small business owners include:

  • regularly putting in long hours and working intensely to meet the demands of your business or to get your business off the ground
  • undertaking business related activities such as responding to business emails and calls after hours – blurring the boundaries between work and home
  • feeling isolated by not having someone to share business worries with, or lacking support from someone who understands the demands of running a small business 
  • managing ongoing cash flow and financial issues, including chasing invoices and feeling concerned over where the next job is coming from
  • having multiple roles as well as managing the additional demands of administrative and government regulations – on top of everything else
  • feeling responsible to yourself and to family and employees to ensure the business is successful

Mental health as a small business owner

While it can be tempting to focus all your time and attention on your business, it’s also essential that you take care of yourself. As an employing small business owner, or sole trader, you can face a range of unique challenges that can affect your mental health and the mental health of your staff.

It’s important to be aware of some of the common signs and symptoms that can let you know that you may be struggling with your mental health. 

Some of the early warning signs of mental health struggles are:

  • finding it difficult to concentrate on tasks
  • feeling tired and fatigued
  • being unusually tearful or emotional
  • getting angry easily or frustrated with tasks or people
  • drinking alcohol to cope
  • finding it hard to make decisions
  • avoiding social situations.

One way to consider where you are at with your mental health is to complete the Anxiety and depression checklist thanks to Beyond Blue. This is a simple checklist based on your experiences in the past four weeks, that can help to direct you to support and resources.

Mental health as an employee

Did you know that according to Safe Work Australia, work-related mental health conditions (also known as psychological injuries) have become a major concern in Australian workplaces? This is due to the negative impact on individual employees and the costs associated with the long periods away from work that are typical of these claims.

Each year:

  • 7,200 Australians are compensated for work-related mental health conditions, equating to around 6% of workers’ compensation claims, and
  • approximately $543 million is paid in workers’ compensation for work-related mental health conditions.

That is a staggering amount of human and financial resources to be lost each year. That equates to approximately $75,416 per person per year. That is more than most people earn!

And then there is the personal costs:

  • Lowered self-esteem and self-worth
  • Suicide
  • Self-abuse or to domestic violence
  • Loss of family and friends

Positive steps towards a mentally healthy workplace

Life can be difficult in a lot of ways for many business owners. These might include imposter syndrome, lack of self-worth and self-esteem, challenges with depression and other mental illnesses and financial issues. Not to mention challenges in their personal life – family, partnerships, parents, or siblings. Some are even challenged with sexual identity.

Keep in mind that these are only challenges, humps in the road, little hills, or high mountains to climb but not the end of the world!

And remember, there is no such thing as being a failure or having failed. These are learning experiences that we need to embrace so that we can move on to something bigger and better. If you have learned something and have not wasted the opportunity, then you have not failed. It’s a learning curve.

Many of our beliefs in self and our reactions stem from our childhood. Scientific research tells us that our programming is done in the first seven years of life, so if the programming is mostly negative, then we as adults will continue to subconsciously believe what we have been programmed to believe as a child.

According to business.gov.au, risks to mental health can be managed through the same process as you use for physical risks:

  • identify the hazards
  • assess the risks
  • control the risks
  • continually review the control measures to make sure they are working

As with physical risks, you should involve and consult your workers throughout this process. Your workers are a great source of information on the risks in their work and options to manage these.

To identify the hazards:

  • have regular conversations with your workers to find out how they are
  • understand causes of stress in the workplace and manage them
  • look out for signs of stress in your workers

Stress is the physical, mental, and emotional reactions you have when the demands of your job exceed your ability or resources to cope. Stress itself is not an injury but if prolonged or severe can cause psychological and physical injury.

So, look after yourself, promote good mental health by creating a mentally healthy workplace, and promote mental health initiatives.

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