While mental health for employees has attracted greater focus in recent times, employers need to protect themselves too. Workplace psychologist Danielle Buckley outlines the unique stresses facing business owners and how they can support their own health and wellbeing.
As the awareness of mental health issues becomes more accepted, workplaces are increasingly mindful of ensuring they support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.
While this step forward is a positive one, it’s not only the mental health of employees that needs time and attention. Employers — particularly those in small and medium-sized businesses — are often faced with a set of unique challenges that impact their own mental health and wellbeing, which often go ignored.
Owners of small businesses are often time-poor, lack the support and procedures of companies with human resource departments, and can feel isolated and overwhelmed with the pressures of wearing all hats in the business.
One of my clients, Joel Heffernan of Werri Beach Plumbing, gave this insight into the pressure of owning a small business:
“It’s the hardest thing I have ever done. I feel a responsibility to be a good coach, mentor and teacher, and I want to be. But on top of trying to teach and build relationships, I’m thinking about the $30,000 I’m owed from people who haven’t paid my bills and how this impacts me. It’s hard not to feel stressed about that.”
For SME owners, look for signals like difficulty concentrating, feeling overly tired or emotional, becoming easily frustrated, or turning to alcohol to cope with situations. These signals mean that it is time to start investing in your own mental health and wellbeing plan.
If this sounds like you, here are some things you can do:
Create space to problem-solve
Give yourself uninterrupted thinking time. This allows the logical part of our brain to override the emotional part.
Bad is stronger than good, and when bad things happen, our brain tends to zoom in on these and this can make us feel stressed and anxious.
However, by allocating time to think and problem-solve, we can plan our weeks, daily activities and how we will approach stressful situations.
You can do this by starting each Monday morning by writing out a weekly schedule, prioritising what is important and what you will achieve each day.
Then, each morning spend 10 minutes writing down the three most important things to achieve that day, and ending each day with 15 minutes of thinking time, where you reflect on what you achieved, what is your next priority and any roadblocks or problems you need to solve.
You are not alone. Almost all business owners share the same challenges, and when a problem is shared, the intensity of the emotion reduces.
Sharing problems and challenges also provides opportunities to problem-solve, innovate and generate solutions.
For many businesses owners who feel isolated, seeking support — either through peers or mentors — reduces stress and protects against mental health issues.
The “man walk” has been a new initiative bringing men together to walk and talk. These types of initiatives breed inclusiveness and connection, which is vital for our mental health and wellbeing.
Have a hobby
Even if your job is physically exhausting, having a hobby or something to do outside of work not only gives you a welcome distraction, but also gives you time to do something for you.
Whether it be working on a side project, sport, exercise or catching up with friends, having hobbies outside of work boosts your positive emotions.
When we experience more positive emotions, it broadens and builds our internal resources, and this makes us more resilient.
Manage your work hours
There is always a danger with running your own business that “the more you work, the more you earn”. But even if this is true in theory, just like a sportsperson, we need time to be on and time to be off.
Time off allows us to recharge and recalibrate: essential to positively managing our mental health and wellbeing.
This also involves making time for long weekends and holidays. While the thought of leaving work might seem stressful, distance breeds perspective.
Running your own business comes with highs and lows, and for many it involves developing a skill set which is outside of your technical expertise.
In many cases, having to develop coaching skills and relationship building skills and listening skills is something that needs to be learnt.
As you develop these skills, it’s also important to develop the skill of being compassionate towards yourself. That is, acknowledging that you will encounter tough situations, and as you do, use a growth mindset to learn that new skill.
For example, Mr Heffernan explains:
“Even if this is hard, I’m going to learn how to handle this situation and it’s OK for me to find it challenging. Some weeks I just need to walk away, to sit down and think through how best to handle the challenges I face. But I’ve found a few other business owners in the same situation, so we meet up, share what’s been going on and help each other through. Support and sharing really helps.”
The more we shine a light on the real challenges faced by business owners, the more we can begin to provide all workplaces with the tools to thrive.
Danielle Buckley a registered psychologist and master’s degree holder, specialising in workplace psychology and mental health.
If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, or you’re worried about someone else and feel that urgent professional support is needed, contact your local doctor or one of the 24/7 crisis agencies below:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.