How better mental health support can power small business success

3 minute read
Small businesses are the lifeblood of an economy. But in challenging economic times the pressure on owners rises and mental health issues increase. Alex von Schirmeister, managing director UK & EMEA at Xero, offers advice on how small business owners can support their own and their team’s mental health

Small business mental health issues

As a small business owner, what do you do when you or your staff need help but you can’t provide it? With UK inflation hitting 10.1%, warnings around the impact of the energy crisis and political upheaval, there is extraordinary pressure on owners’ wellbeing. The challenge of striking a balance between work and mental health has never been so pronounced.

A recent Xero study, carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), discovered that 80% of small business owners experience some symptoms of poor mental health. Despite this, only half of them know where to turn to get support.

This is deeply concerning, with many business owners finding themselves locked in a cycle. They are struggling with falling revenues as consumers cut back on spending, resulting in worsening mental health, which in turn can have a negative impact on business performance.

Empowering small business owners to support their own and their team’s mental health is vital and results in significant benefits, extending to business performance. The research found that respondents who invested more in mental health initiatives enjoyed better economic outcomes, and were even able to grow and retain more staff.

We take a look at the importance of ensuring small businesses are given the right resources to support mental health and offer some practical tips for managing your own wellbeing.

A strain on the backbone of the economy

Small businesses are not a minor sub-sector of the economy – they are its backbone, which is now under strain. Recent analysis shows the number of SMEs that closed down in the UK was 23% higher in 2022 than in the same period in 2021. 

Financial woes prevent many small business owners from investing in mental health initiatives that could help them or their staff. It’s no surprise that 21% of non-sole trader small business owners said that the main barrier to their investing in mental health were the costs.

This is a huge shame, because the benefits are clear – including in the potential return on investment in the form of healthier, happier, more productive staff. 

The study found those who invested more than £1,000 in mental health initiatives enjoyed far greater revenue growth than those who invested less or nothing at all.

They also recorded an average increase in their employee numbers of 47% between early 2020 and 2022. Mental health support can make a real difference to businesses looking to retain staff.

Meanwhile, 47% of respondents said that not enough government support is in place with respect to the mental health and psychological wellbeing of small business owners.

But it’s never been more important for small businesses to be able to invest in mental health and for governments and big business to play their part in enabling this, whether through greater access to mental health support and resources, or taking firmer action on the many issues impacting small businesses.

Late payments, for example – where large customers withhold paying small businesses for their own financial gain – are a scourge on finances. Clamping down on late payments would offer owners and their businesses greater support, and could free up the resources needed to invest in crucial mental health initiatives.

Practical tips for better wellbeing

While more support may take time to arrive, there are steps small business owners can take to better manage their own mental health, while also encouraging a focus on wellbeing in their team.

  • Manage stress using the container method

Stress can manifest in a huge number of ways, from disturbed sleep to anxiety. But one way of managing this is by thinking of your mind as a ‘stress container’. Everyone’s life experiences and resilience is different, so some of our containers are larger and some are smaller.

Stressors in our life flow into the container, and when they are manageable we can drain it slowly by using healthy coping strategies, whether that’s catching up with friends or family, exercising or something else.

The idea is to use the stress container concept to balance your mental health and find a coping strategy to ensure yours doesn’t get too full.

  • Develop a wellbeing-led workplace for you and your staff

For example, include information around how your business supports mental health in any induction process, from mental health first aiders in the office, to forums for non-work related discussion, or to sharing resources from organisations such as Mind and support services like The Samaritans.

In addition, set a positive tone through simple actions. Encourage full lunch breaks and defined business hours to avoid overworking. Owners should abide by these too, to set an example and show that it’s okay to prioritise your wellbeing.

Small business owners will continue to face an extraordinary amount of pressure, and need help to embrace mental health initiatives to support themselves, their staff and their businesses. By looking after the economy’s backbone it should be able to stand tall once again.

Alex von Schirmeister, pictured below, is managing director UK & EMEA at accounting software company Xero

 Alex von Schirmeister

Published 9 November 2022
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