Prioritising mental health: How small business owners can make a difference

In today’s modern business landscape, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the economy.

However, lost amid the grind to balance books, meet customer demands, and stay afloat, there’s an often-overlooked factor: prioritising mental health.

The wellbeing of both business owners and their employees is paramount, not only for personal happiness but also for the overall productivity and success of the business.

The weight on small business owners

Running a small business can be exceptionally rewarding, providing a sense of achievement, financial independence, and the opportunity to create something meaningful.

However, it also comes with high stress, financial pressures, long hours, and the blurred lines between work and personal life.

All these aspects can have a profound impact on an individual’s mental health.

Our workplace mental health report last year revealed almost a third (31%) of SME owners and operators consider mental health to be an immediate concern, but almost one in three (30%) find it difficult to talk about.

The ripple effect

The mental health of business owners doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it also affects their employees.

Staff members are likely to feel the ripple effects of the stress and anxiety that a business owner experiences, particularly in businesses with close-knit teams.

Furthermore, employees also face their own stressors, from job security to work-life balance, and the pressures of each role.

Neglecting mental health can lead to a decrease in overall job performance, morale, and employee satisfaction. It can increase absenteeism and even lead to higher turnover rates.

These factors not only affect the individuals involved but also the bottom line of the business.

Building a supportive environment

Recognising the importance of mental health is the first step, but creating an environment that supports these challenges is crucial for small business owners.

1. Open dialogue: Cultivate a workplace culture where mental health is not a taboo subject. Encourage open conversations about stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. When leaders are open about these topics, it allows employees to feel comfortable doing the same.

2. Access to resources: Provide resources for support, whether it’s counselling services, mental health days, or informational material about managing stress and mental health concerns.

3. Flexible work arrangements: Work-life balance is a significant factor in overall mental health. Consider flexible schedules, remote work options, or even reduced hours during slow periods to help employees balance their personal and professional lives.

4. Training and development: Invest in mental health training for yourself and your team. Understanding how to recognise signs of mental health struggles and how to approach these conversations can be crucial.

5. Regular check-ins: Implement regular check-ins with your team, not just about work but their overall well-being. These meetings can help identify issues before they become severe and show your team that you care.

Leveraging external support

Thankfully, awareness around mental health has been growing, and there are numerous resources that small business owners can utilise.

We’ve partnered with Smiling Mind to deliver a Small Business Program to support the wellbeing of small business owners.

The Small Business program is free to access via the Smiling Mind app, offering users guidance on topics such as stress management, managing work/life balance, managing isolation, supporting growth and building resilience.

In addition to this partnership, Beyond Blue offers a variety of mental health resources, including a dedicated section for small business owners called Heads Up, which is a joint initiative by the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance and Beyond Blue, providing tailored strategies for small businesses to create mentally healthy workplaces. 

The financial angle

While business owners might shy away from investing in mental health, there are financial implications for not doing so.

According to research, every dollar spent on creating a mentally healthy workplace can, on average, result in a return of $2.30 for the organisation.

This return is seen through increased productivity, improved morale, and reduced absenteeism.

2020 Productivity Commission report examining the effect of mental health on people’s ability to participate and prosper found that:

In total, mental illness, on a conservative basis, is costing Australia about $200-220 billion per year. To put that in context, this is just over one-tenth of the size of Australia’s entire economic production in 2019. The cost is between $550 million and $600 million per day.

People with poor mental health are more likely to be less productive, which has an overall effect of reducing productivity.

Keeping the conversation open

The journey towards prioritising mental health in the workplace is ongoing.

It requires a shift in mindset, continued efforts to build supportive environments, and making the best use of available resources.

As small business owners, creating successful businesses while also safeguarding the mental well-being of those who contribute to that success needs to be paramount.

Going forward, when it comes to making businesses better, mental health considerations should always be part of every conversation. Business health can only be stronger with healthy minds.

Source: MYOB October 2023

Reproduced with the permission of MYOB. This article by <author name> was originally published at

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