With the recent celebration of R U Ok? Day, more and more people are taking the time to check in on the mental health of their colleagues, family and friends. As society becomes more accepting of the seriousness of mental health issues, there’s also more support out there than ever before, especially for employees: 97 percent of all large corporates offer some form of EAP for their staff.
Yet while employees of big businesses may have access to the support they need, employees of small businesses – as well as small business owners themselves – often receive no support. This is concerning because small business owners and their staff have been identified as particularly at risk of experiencing mental health issues.
But why? And more importantly, what can we do about it?
Issues faced by small business owners
For many, owning a business is a dream come true. You get the flexibility you need to manage your life, plus, often, the opportunity to pursue work that’s interesting and meaningful for you.
Yet with this comes a lot of responsibility. Suddenly, there’s no marketing, finance or administrative team to support you. You need to be the jack of all trades, and this can put a lot of pressure on your time, says psychologist Dr. Abbie Wootten, CEO of non-for-profit group, Smiling Minds:
‘Many small business owners will have either a small number of staff, or no staff at all. That means they have to do everything and you’re juggling multiple competing tasks.’
New business owners often feel overwhelmed and can also struggle with imposter syndrome, says Sam Burmeister, founder of Tall Books. While his business is now a few years old, in the beginning, he often felt like he wasn’t good enough:
‘It’s quite common as a sole practitioner, especially when you’re entering a new industry, to have in the back of your mind that you’re a fraud.’
These compounding issues lead to many business owners suffering from mental health issues. A recent survey by MYOB found that more than 43% of all business owners had experienced a mental health issue since starting their business, and that figure was on the rise.
Issues faced by employees of small businesses
Business owners not only struggle with their own mental health – they also struggle to support their employees.
Less than half of all small business owners said they felt able to address mental health issues affecting their staff.
Regina McInnes, who runs her own property management company, said that addressing mental health issues within a small business can be challenging as resources are quite limited:
‘A smaller company doesn’t necessarily have the resources a large company has, and the fear is if you were to address something incorrectly, it could be thrown back at you.’
Effect on productivity
Not addressing mental health issues can open up businesses to a myriad of issues, including, but not limited to, profitability and productivity stresses.
Arna Jade, director of business consulting firm Imari, said that she saw first-hand what can happen when mental health issues aren’t addressed. One of her employees, Sally*, experienced depression that started affecting her at work:
‘Sometimes, she was consumed by her problems during working hours. If I saw she was tense, I would pull her aside and ask her what was going on.’
Over time, Arna was able to get Sally to open up and as a result, she was able to help Sally:
‘I gave her the opportunity to vent so we could address her problems. That meant I had a happy, productive staff member who was ultimately able to resolve some of her issues, instead of stewing on them.’
Yet while Arna was able to help Sally, many business owners aren’t able to do the same as they are concerned that bringing up issues may have a crippling effect on their business. Yet not addressing issues can have the same effect – stressed, anxious or depressed employees are significantly less productive, which in turn can affect other employees’ productivity and the business’s bottom line.
But how to help?
While it’s indisputable that small business owners are at risk of experiencing mental health issues and need support, figuring out how to help them – and their staff – is complex. Traditional EAP programs can be prohibitively expensive for small businesses, as many of them work on a fixed-price basis, meaning that the cost is set, regardless of how many employees use the service or how often. This set-up simply doesn’t work for small business owners – they aren’t able to justify the cost of this ‘just in case’ their employees need it.
A much better option for business owners is pay-per-use service EAP, where business owners only pay when they, or their staff, access the service.
Using this type of arrangement, business owners would be able to access the support they need and simultaneously offer this support to their staff, which in turn would boost everyone’s productivity – and happiness – in the business.
As part of their digital benefits platform, Career Money Life has created a pay-per-use EAP specifically tailored to the needs of small business owners. With our platform, you’ll only pay when you or your staff access service not a fixed cost per year. We also take care of all invoicing and can provide you with data and reporting. Get in touch for a free demo.