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Proactive approach to mental health challenging for small business



Small Business

By Loren Webb

More than two thirds (67%) of small businesses have not discussed mental health days, according to fresh data from MYOB.

The finding, from a survey conducted with 757 Australian small business operators, is compounded by the fact that just half (52%) of respondents said they feel able to address mental health issues affecting their staff.

The number of businesses who had not talked about mental health days was particularly high for those with a small number of staff, with 72% of businesses with two to four employees saying they had not had the discussion.

Helen Lea, MYOB’s Chief Employee Experience Officer said given MYOB recently reported 43% of small business operators had experienced some form of mental health condition since starting a business, a proactive approach to managing mental wellbeing would face off potential problems at the very start.

“We are extremely cognisant of the pressures running a small business can bring. Having support from the outset to stop any sense of anxiety before it can take hold is an essential step, but it’s perhaps the toughest to fulfil when there are so many demands on a business owners’ time,” she said.

In a bid to provide support to small business operators, MYOB has forged a community partnership with mindfulness leader and not for profit organisation, Smiling Mind. The partnership will focus on supporting a positive and proactive approach to mental health.  Over the next two years, Smiling Mind will work with MYOB to develop content tailored to support small business owners across Australia and New Zealand to help enhance their wellbeing and performance.

“The subject of mental health can be overwhelming to anyone, but the small business community has a set of unique considerations that we need to consider and support. Let’s face it: being in business for yourself can be lonely and challenging. That’s the reason why we have pledged to work with Smiling Mind to create a resource small business can lean on,” said Ms Lea.

Dr Addie Wootten, clinical psychologist and CEO of Smiling Mind said taking a proactive approach to mental health comes with many benefits.

“We want to change the way people think about mental health – moving it from a term with negative sentiment to a positive one – to get people looking after their mental health the same way they look after their physical health. Like our bodies, the more we take care of ourselves mentally, the healthier we are,” she said.

“MYOB touches many of Australia and New Zealand’s small business owners daily. I know that together we can inspire, engage and transform the lives of millions of small business owners and employees to help them better succeed in their business and live the lives they want to lead.”

Sam Burmeister, founder of bookkeeping company Tall Books, started his own company three years ago after starting out in marketing and studying a Bachelor of Music. Something Sam struggles with is ‘imposter syndrome’; he has doubted himself and the difference he makes to the industry, despite taking out accolades including MYOB’s Young Bookkeeper of the Year in 2018.

“I experience anxiety. It’s something I’ve had to deal with all my life. So I have to be really smart about staying on top of it and for me, fitness is really important. I started seeing a personal trainer when I started my business, and it very quickly became my outlet,” he said.

“While business can seem all consuming at times, it’s so important to embrace your hobbies and make time for them. I still make time for my music, because it’s about achieving balance and keeping at bay feelings of pressure at work. Quite often, our biggest barriers are ourselves. Having the right head space is critical to being successful.”

Other key findings of the research conducted included:

  • Businesses working in finance and insurance and agricultural industries were least likely to have discussed mental health days with staff (71% said they had not)
  • The likelihood of this discussion taking place declines with age. Seventy-seven per cent of small business operators aged 60 plus had not discussed mental health days with staff, versus 57% of business operators aged under 40
  • Male small business operators were most likely to report they did not feel able to discuss mental health issues with staff (21% versus 16% of women)
  • Business operators under 40 feel least equipped to have that conversation. Thirty-one per cent said they did not feel able to address mental health issues affecting staff