Small businesses need better mental health support to thrive

With inflation, hiring challenges and the lingering effects of a global pandemic, is it any wonder that small business owners are struggling to both drive success and provide mental health support for themselves and their employees?

In fact, a recent Xero study found that 82% of small business owners state their mental health deteriorated over the pandemic, with financial troubles a common cause.

While there are obstacles to providing support – 21% of small business owners said that the main barrier to investing in mental health was cost – the benefits of embracing these initiatives are significant, both from a wellbeing and business perspective.

Those who invested more than £1,000 in mental health initiatives experienced far greater revenue growth than those who invested less or nothing at all. They also saw an average increase in employee numbers of 47% between early 2020 and 2022.

Empowering owners to embrace mental health initiatives should now become a priority as we look to support the backbone of our economy.

Support is needed

While mental health initiatives can have a positive impact on the bottom line in the longer term, many owners feel unable to take the leap, citing cost as a barrier. A huge number of small businesses are suffering from cash flow crunch – when expenses in a given month exceed revenue.

Another Xero survey found that nearly a quarter of UK small businesses experienced more than six months of negative cash flow in 2021. As a result, small businesses are finding their own finances in a stranglehold, seeing expenses mount, wages go unpaid and an increase in job losses.

Meanwhile, those who are willing and able to take the leap may not know how – 47% said that not enough government support is in place with respect to the mental health and psychological wellbeing of small business owners.

But they need this support, and the government and big businesses can be doing more to make it available. This may be offering mental health resources or tackling other issues plaguing small businesses, like late payments – a serious contributor to the cash flow crunch. This is where large customers withhold paying small businesses for their own financial gain.

We’ve offered suggestions on how to tackle this – including renaming this awful practice as ‘unapproved debt’, and asking the government to impose stricter penalties to ensure small businesses are paid on time, freeing up resources to invest in mental health.

Tips for better wellbeing

While a greater level of support is required for small businesses to embrace mental health initiatives, there are some practical steps that can help the wellbeing of owners and their staff.

First, is understanding and addressing burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

Many symptoms are well known – fatigue or interrupted sleep – but the early signs can be difficult to spot, manifesting as intensified reactions to stress like irritability and cynicism.

You may already be aware of some of the steps to tackle burnout, from exercise to reducing caffeine intake, and it’s down to each individual to drive positive change across personal and professional habits. But sometimes, the most challenging thing is identifying it in the first place, so it can be helpful to hear from someone who has experienced it themselves.

Second, is getting enough rest. We all know the importance of sleep, but ensuring you get a full night of shut-eye can sometimes feel impossible.

It’s important to identify how to develop healthy habits to enable you to rest most effectively. For example:

  • Establish a relaxing routine that allows a ‘wind down’ every night and prepares the brain for sleep. With this in place, the mind no longer needs to think about sleep because the body is expecting it, and you can get some well-earned rest.
  • Limit exposure to blue light a few hours before going to bed. This can be challenging given our close relationship with digital devices, but blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone, and can keep you awake.

Also, if you need additional mental health support, don’t hesitate to turn to organisations such as Mind and support services like The Samaritans.

While there are many obstacles facing small businesses, the ability to embrace mental health initiatives is vital for them to thrive. By offering this support we can see a brighter future for UK small businesses, and the economy as a whole.

Alex von Schirmeister
Alex von Schirmeister

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