Creating a mentally healthy small business
If you are a small business owner, you are probably familiar with the ups and downs of running a small business. Some days can be rewarding, others can be a challenge.
Sometimes dealing with people can be frustrating and things don’t always go to plan.
During these times you may need some help. The Victorian Small Business Commission (VSBC) has created the Small Business Mentally Healthy Strategic Plan.
What is mental health?
Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are often confused with the term ‘mental health’.
The World Health Organisation’s definition for mentally healthy is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.
A mentally healthy workplace
How the business environment affects you and those around you to do your job well and in a positive way is important to the life of your small business.
It’s crucial to start thinking about mental health in the workplace the same way you would think about and create strategies for good finance or good processes.
Looking after you and your staff’s mental health is important in maintaining a mentally healthy workplace. It’s also good business practice, as it can save you money down the track.
How to create a mentally healthy workplace
Firstly, as the business owner you need to recognise your own mental health priorities, then go about developing strategies for creating a mentally healthy work environment for your staff.
The business owner’s mental health
It’s important to be aware of your own mental health as your business grows, for example, as you expand your business online.
Some ideas to help you include:
- Making time for exercise each day: The Department of Health Behaviour Guidelines recommends about 30-40 minutes of walking or other activity each day. Making it a daily habit and something you look forward to is a great idea. It may end with a coffee or a tea, but that’s okay!
- Be mindful: Mindfulness may be all the rage right now, that’s because it works. It means being more aware of your emotions and how they affect you and those around you. It’s a great tool to help you monitor and manage negative thoughts and track your stress and anxiety levels.
- Create work/life boundaries: It’s good practice to not take your work home with you, if possible. That’s easier said than done if you run a business from home or freelance, but there are still ways you can adopt some boundaries. Try switching off the work mobile after 5pm and only respond to emails during business hours. If you have kids, make the weekend time for them only and if you can, address work matters on Monday.
- Connect with others: Reach out to a supportive friend or family member who is a good listener, a counsellor who offers effective strategies for coping with stress or a group session that helps you connect with others who can relate.
Signs to look out for
If you feel your mental health is declining, reach out for help.
Signs can include:
- Physical changes: you may feel like there is a knot in your stomach, have a tense neck and sore muscles and shoulders, experience nausea, feel your heart beat faster or notice a decrease or increase in your appetite.
- Changes in behaviour: you may not be sleeping properly, crying often or feeling moody and irritable.
- Not thinking clearly: you may not be able to make decisions at work or in your personal life, understand directions or be able to focus on a task.
- Feeling sad or anxious regularly: bad days are a natural part of life. However, if you notice you feel sad or anxious more often and every day becomes a chore, speak to someone who can help such as a supportive friend or counsellor.
- Isolating yourself: disconnecting from others is a sign that all is not well. You may be avoiding social activities, staying away from family and friends or giving up on hobbies and sporting activities that you used to enjoy.
- Feeling overwhelmed: you may be feeling that everything is too hard and seems to be piling up on you, and that making decisions and solving problems is more difficult too.
Tips to help yourself
Mental health challenges in business are common and there is help available if you need some support.
With the right help, you can overcome this hurdle and get back on track for you, your staff and your business. Below are some helpful tips to get back on track:
- Reach out and talk to someone. It may be a counsellor, a family member or a friend. It may be someone from an online telephone counselling service. Find what works best for you. If someone close is not available to listen, then find help from one of the support services listed below.
- Access online mental health resources such as Heads Up, which was created especially for small business owners, and Work Safe Victoria’s WorkWell toolkit, which is a navigation tool that links workplaces to relevant research, tools and information.
- Stay connected and participate in your local business network group. Join a small business online forum and try to keep up social activities.
- Get physical by exercising regularly and eat well. It’s well known that exercise helps to reduce stress and can improve other health conditions. It can help to give up coffee or at least reduce how much coffee you drink, stop or reduce drinking alcohol and go for a walk each day to get some fresh to help clear your head.
Creating a mentally healthy workplace for your staff
The stigma around mental health is gradually being addressed through mental health campaigns and the willingness of people to talk more openly about it now.
Because staff often work closely together with small business owner operators, they can also be affected when challenges come up.
Heads Up for small business is a useful online resource for supporting small businesses in achieving better mental health in the workplace.
Ways to help you staff include:
- using the Heads Up resources online to create a conversation around mental health in the workplace and how you can develop strategies for coping
- encouraging and reminding your staff to take their morning tea and lunch breaks, where they can have a chat with a colleague or take a walk around the block
- making brochures on mental health available in the staff kitchen area and encouraging the sharing of information
- supporting and encouraging participation in mental health campaigns such as ‘R U OK?’, which can get your staff talking about metal health and break down the stigma
- being WorkSafe smart and knowing your legal obligations as a small business owner. WorkSafe Victoria has online information about work related stress that you can read and share with your staff (see the WorkWell Toolkit).
More information and resources
Heads Up: this site has lots of resources and information about mental health in Australian workplaces and has been created especially for small business owners.
Business In Mind: this is an online resource designed to support business owners who may be experiencing mental health challenges.
Beyond Blue: Beyond Blue provide information and support to help all Australians achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live. Download their free guide for advisors, family and friends of people in small business, Supporting small business owners to improve their mental health and wellbeing at work.
Mates in Construction: Mates in Construction is a mental health service provider that supports businesses in the construction sector. (Phone 1300 642 111)
National Centre for Farmer Health: this site provides a wide variety of health, wellbeing and safety information, including a support page for farmers experiencing tough times. (Phone 03 5551 8533)
The Ripple Effect: this is an initiative for rural communities that seeks to address suicide in rural areas. (Phone 03 5551 8587)
SANE Australia: SANE Australia provides online information, support and connection for Australians affected by complex mental illness through its website, peer-to-peer forums and helpline. SANE also has a range of factsheets on managing mental health in the workplace. (Phone 1800 18 7263)
Australian Tax Office (ATO): the ATO recognises that owning and growing a small business can be difficult, and offers useful information and tools via their mental health for small business page.
WorkSafe Victoria: WorkSafe Victoria provides information to Victorian businesses about their legal obligations for providing a safe workplace. You can access a range of information about mental health and safety, including work-related stress and workplace bullying, via the website. (Phone 1800 136 089)
Victorian workplace mental wellbeing collaboration: this initiative offers tools and resources including case studies to support workplaces in promoting positive mental health and wellbeing.